Radar gun citizen patrol draws mixed reviews

December 9, 2008

By Jim Feehan

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Cheryl Coupens found out firsthand the city does not have as many lead-footed motorists as she thought. 

Last month, she participated in a demonstration of the city’s Speed Watch program that trains residents to operate radar guns to detect speeding drivers in their neighborhood. 

“I clocked two out of 30 cars exceeding the speed limit,” said Coupens, who was monitoring traffic in the Highlands. 

Radar rangers
To participate in the Speed Watch program, e-mail the Newcastle Police Department at police@ci.newcastle.wa.us or call 649-4444, ext. 120, to schedule a time to use a radar gun, which may be used for up to three days.

One of the most frequent requests to police and the city’s Public Works Department is the need to address speeding along residential streets, said Newcastle Police Chief Melinda Irvine. Residents come to find that the culprits are usually their own neighbors, if they’re speeding at all, Irvine said.

The initial training takes 15 minutes. Two people are needed for a speed watch, one to clock speeds, read license plate numbers and describe vehicles, while the other person fills out forms.

Police locate the registered owner of the vehicle and send him or her a warning letter. Typically, letters are sent to those driving at least 5 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, Irvine said. 

Coupens said she doesn’t plan to participate in the program again anytime soon. 

“In hindsight, I don’t think it’s such a good idea,” she said. “It’s scary. It’s pitting neighbor against neighbor.”

The program has its critics. City Councilwoman Carol Simpson said the council did not vet the program.

“I felt it should have been a policy established by council before it was implemented,” she said.

But Irvine said the Speed Watch program allows people in the community to partner with police on the speeding issue. The program makes drivers aware of a neighborhood’s concern about speeding.

“This gives us the opportunity to cover more area,”’ she said.

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