State police find laser speed guns better than radar
By Bob Holliday

PONTIAC -- Trooper Joe Dittmer stood at the side of the road and attempted with the naked eye to estimate the speed of an approaching car.

“This guy looks like he’s going 38 miles per hour,” said Dittmer, who then pointed a laser speed gun at the car. “He’s going 36, now 35 and now 33 …”

Most drivers, he said, slow down when they realize their speed is being monitored, making accurate speed monitoring equipment so important.

Dittmer, a safety education officer for Pontiac-based Illinois State Police District 6, prefers laser speed detection to radar, saying it’s more accurate and less susceptible to user error.

It’s been used for about eight years in Illinois and is becoming increasingly prevalent.

“I believe we will be getting more and more lasers because of their accuracy,” said Master Sgt. Brian Ley, a state police public information officer. Laser speed guns allow police to monitor cars farther away, pinpointing a specific vehicle with a red dot.

“They (lasers) can lock on at 2,500 feet away,” said Dittmer.

District 6 has six laser units. All of its 50 squad cars are equipped with radar, which is about $1,000 per unit cheaper, Dittmer said. Laser units run about $2,500 each.

Laser, or LIDAR (light detection and ranging), technology uses lasers to determine the distance to an object or surface. According to several Web sites, including Wise Geek, laser is similar to radar, but uses laser pulses instead of electromagnetic waves to identify speed.

While the Bloomington and Normal police departments don’t have laser units, McLean County sheriff’s police have one laser unit and about a dozen radar units.

Whether it’s laser or radar, users must be certified.

Lt. Brent Wick, support services commander for the sheriff’s department, said deputies like the laser unit, but it must be used from a stationary position.

Normal Assistant Police Chief Rick Bleichner said his department has “been able to accomplish what we need with radar units.” Duane Moss, a spokesman for the Bloomington Police Department, doesn’t expect that department will get lasers in the near future because of their cost.

And, municipalities might prefer radar to laser because laser, unlike radar, can’t be used from a moving squad car, said State Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Copple. “Radar is more flexible,” Copple said.

An Illinois 4th District Appellate Court case eight years ago delved into the accuracy of lasers, but Copple said nowadays there are “no admissibility issues at all.”

He didn’t have a breakdown of the percentage of speeding tickets written on radar versus laser, but said state police use laser technology daily and “courts are accepting of the accuracy.”

In Virginia recently, police took aim at moving vehicles with a variety of speed detection devices in an attempt to assure courts that laser technology is accurate, according to an Associated Press story.

“If the operator has been well trained and he or she pays attention to target selectivity … then the laser is as accurate as any radar unit ever was,” Bob Jacob, director of the Institute of Police Technology and Management at the University of North Florida, told The Associate Press.

Back in Central Illinois, Dittmer put it this way: “This (laser) is a little more expensive, but I much prefer it over radar.”