December 31, 2005
Bill would expand use of radar
# Lawmaker says his plan would allow officers to use the devices in large counties
By Kathleen Baydala
Several times a day, drivers zoom down Castlewoods Boulevard in Rankin County, ignoring the speed limit and running stop signs, neighborhood resident Cecil Harrison says.
"Speeding down a residential boulevard makes it dangerous for me to drive on it," said Harrison, 69, who has lived in Castlewoods five years. "I'd like to see some teeth in the enforcement of traffic laws."
Harrison and several other members of the Castlewoods Homeowners Association want the Rankin County Sheriff's Department to be able to use radar to detect speeders.
But only two counties in the state, Harrison and Lowndes, are allowed to use radar, and cities with populations less than 2,000 can't buy or use radar.
During the last decade, various state lawmakers have introduced legislation to allow sheriff's deputies to use radar.
Despite the legislation's failing record, state Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, said he will reintroduce a bill in the 2006 session to allow sheriff's departments to use radar in large counties like Rankin, Hinds and Madison.
Baker said the chairman of the House Transportation Committee is a "stumbling block," but he will try to sway him.
"Sooner or later, there will be something he needs and will have to talk to us about votes," Baker said. "We'll be more receptive to his needs when he is to ours."
House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Miles, D-Fulton, would not say whether he would oppose the bill. He said the bill "has been a tough piece of legislation" to get through the committee.
"No chairman wants to bring a bill out that he can't pass," Miles said. "In the time I have been chairman, I have not seen the support that would allow you to pass the bill on the floor."
Baker said he believes there is adequate support. "We had a full hearing last year, and a room full of people, including legislators, said they wanted radar for their home counties," he said.
The Rankin County Board of Supervisors also supports the legislation, District 2 Supervisor Larry Swales said.
"If our county continues to grow as fast as it is today, speeding in neighborhoods will become a bigger problem," he said.
Rankin County Sheriff Ronnie Pennington said the most common complaint call to his department is about speeding.
"We have no good way of enforcing speed limit law," Pennington said. "We can make a deputy present somewhere, but when he leaves to do something else, people are right back out there speeding."
Deputies now use their eyes to catch speeders, but radar would make them sure of a driver's speed, Pennington said. Radar also would be a deterrent for speeding if drivers know a deputy could be zapping their cars.
But opponents say law enforcement could use the tool to set up speed traps and collect more revenue from speeding tickets.
Both Pennington and Swales said Rankin County doesn't need extra revenue from speeding tickets.
"It's not a revenue initiative for us. It is a matter of providing protection to our citizens," Swales said. "How can (the sheriff's department) control speed if it doesn't have the tool to do it with?"