We’ve heard this before. You need to know what laser guns can do and if they meet your officers’ needs and not just your budget. Here is a performance guide:
Police laser guns have been with us since Laser Technology, Inc. introduced its 20/20 Marksman in 1991. These first laser guns were heavy (almost five pounds) and could only produce a single shot, not a continual tracking history! Officers continually complained about the laser gun’s weight because it was built like a tank and felt like it. It was also challenged by the courts; i.e., New Jersey Superior Court, Judge Reginald Stanton, cite as: 314 N.J. Super. 233, 714 A. 2d 381. Matter of Admissibility of Motor Speed Readings Produced by LTI Marksman 20/20 Laser Speed Detection System, March 1998.
Admissibility in Court
Judge Stanton, in a long 18 month trial, ordered the New Jersey State Police to conduct extensive testing comparing the speeds of the LTI 20/20 Marksman laser gun to the now obsolete K-55 X band radar gun. Of the 1,908 comparisons, only 16 cases produced a speed variance between the two guns of more than one mile per hour or .08%. He accepted the laser gun with exceptions: “1) Officers must be properly trained in the use of LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) and that training must be documented; 2) Readings shall not be accepted during heavy rainfall or while snow is falling; and 3) Speed readings made at distances up to 1,000 feet are admissible. Readings obtained in excess of 1,000 feet shall be admitted only with supporting evidence and expert witness testimony.”
Judge Stanton ordered the “1,000 Foot Rule” because of the beam divergence of the laser gun. Laser can pinpoint one vehicle in a group; radar can’t. The three milliradian laser beam, as produced by the LTI 20/20 Marksman, creates a beam width at 1,000 feet of 36 inches (three feet) compared to a typical radar gun of 212 feet. A 2.5 milliradian beam like Digital Ally’s Laser AllyTM produces a beam width of 30 inches at 1,000 feet. Laser can only be used in the stationary mode and the officer’s potential hand shaking was an issue with the court. Part of the laser beam might strike an adjacent vehicle producing a misidentification of the target vehicle. Speed Measurement Laboratories (SML) looked at this issue in its nationally published research article, SML Report #SML08-12716, ten years later. It found that, of the 2,648 comparisons of new radar and laser guns from all manufacturers, only .07% were in excess of +/- one mile per hour, confirming the New Jersey Court’s findings. Are radar and laser gun speed readings the same? Yes! We recommended that when officers write a laser ticket, they put the distance at which the reading was gained. Several states have issued a statewide judicial notice for laser gun use. This means that police laser guns are accepted by all jurisdictions in the state. These states include Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maine, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Florida.
A major concern of radar or laser gun use is powering – batteries always seem to go out when you need them most. Laser Technology, Inc. pioneered powering with the introduction of the LTI UltraLyte LR series. The LR series powers its units with off-the-shelf “C” cell batteries available almost everywhere. A motor officer could stop at a convenience store and “power up” with rechargeable “C” cell batteries instead of waiting for the next charge at headquarters. All of the new laser guns use off-the-shelf batteries; it is best to buy rechargeable batteries.
Some manufacturers have continued to offer battery packs for external powering of their laser guns. These battery packs are expensive to replace and the best solution is to buy laser guns powered by commonly available batteries.
Radar vs. Laser in Writing Tickets
Which system can write the most tickets? In metropolitan areas with rush hour traffic, it is laser. Ask any motor officer. It is almost two to one. Laser can pinpoint one vehicle in a group; radar can’t! Several large departments use laser guns exclusively and this number is constantly growing. If you are constantly moving, like state police agencies, radar is best. Laser guns can’t move.
Some new laser guns take pictures (if allowed in the local and state jurisdictions) which are stored on a commercially available “SD” card and the chain of evidence is preserved. Hold the trigger down and the laser gun goes immediately to video. Both developments provide evidence of speeding and are fairer to the officer and the driver. For decades, interfacing radar gun readings with dash cam video systems has taken place. On each video frame, the speed of the vehicle appears. How is a laser gun’s ability to take a picture different? It isn’t!
Laser Should Be Instantly On
A big issue, especially for motor officers, is that the laser should be instantly on and ready as speeders approach. It should also holster easily. The LTI UltraLyte LRB/S and Digital Ally’s Laser Ally both do this with just a pull of the trigger.
Most laser guns (old and new) require time to go through a setup procedure. If an officer is in a police car, this issue is diminished. Laser guns should be “on” when they are needed, as well as show the speed and distance in the Heads-Up Display (HUD) (instead of just showing speed with distance displayed on the rear panel).
Size and Ease of Use
The newest laser guns are smaller and weigh less. For example, the Kustom ProLite+ binocular and LTI’s “S” weigh less than one pound. Displays should also be easy to read. Ideally, the HUD should display both speed and distance. The courts have consistently stated, “It is not necessary for the operator of the speed detection device to understand the scientific principles of the device as long as the operator properly operates and tests the unit.” Texas v. Sparks – Case #PD381435-1.
We’ve long advocated a replacement for the written logbook of both radar and laser guns. It has finally arrived. Increasingly, courts are asking for evidence that the radar gun or laser gun has been tested for accuracy each day, not just pushing the test button which appears on guns. The test button only checks to see if the circuits are okay, not for transmission accuracy. The courts have ruled that transmission accuracy tests must be consistent with the operator’s manual for the gun. According to the NHTSA, each department should determine the training and retraining of officers; the recertification of equipment, including tuning forks; and testing the device for accuracy. This is not a mandate, but a recommendation. The best advice is to do what the state police do in your state. Two years ago, Harris County (Houston), TX, took 100 radar units out of service as the tuning forks were lost and the officers had no training on the radar units.
The new Kustom Signals, Inc. ProLaser 4 has a feature giving birth to Memory Log. They call it an “Events” feature. Daily setup accuracy checks of “Known Distance” and “Vertical and Horizontal Sight Alignment” are stored in memory. The memory reports to the second, the date and time the officer checked the laser gun for accuracy. If the court mandates to produce this “evidence of accuracy checks,” you can download the data via the gun’s USB port. This is the beginning of the end of written logs of accuracy checks.
Inclement Weather Mode and Through the Windshield
To address Judge Stanton’s objections of using laser in the rain or snow, Kustom Signals, Inc. an-nounced the development of their “INClement Weather Mode” (INC/Weather) in 1999. The INC/ Weather mode tells the laser’s computer to disregard signals up to some 300 feet ahead, allowing use in adverse weather conditions. Further, new lasers can shoot through the windshield, eliminating limited out of car use in cold January temperatures. All new lasers have INC/Weather modes. We wanted to see if it was necessary to place the laser gun in the INC/Weather mode to shoot through the windshield and we wanted to see what affect the INC/Weather mode had on the laser’s ability to target vehicles. It continually bothers me to see laser guns operated outside of the vehicle. Traffic permitting, park sideways and use laser through the side window. We conducted the test on U.S. 80 in Fort Worth, TX, in late July 2012 under the supervision of local police departments. We cleaned the windshield of our Dodge Caravan and used the laser guns in and out of their INC/Weather modes. Different laser makers use different connotations, with Stalker using “C” and the Kustom Signals, Inc. ProLite + using “Poor” for bad weather conditions. Some use the figures of a cloud and rain in the HUD. We used new and old laser guns in our comparison.
Seven laser guns were used for our “Through the Windshield Test.” We compared the performance of the Kustom Signals, Inc.’s ProLaser III, ProLaser 4, and ProLite + binocular; Laser Technology, Inc.’s new binocular TruSpeed “S” and its LBR; Digital Ally’s Laser Ally; and Stalker’s new LR series. The Laser Ally has an “Obstructed Mode” which disregards tree branches and also features an Electronic CounterMeasure (ECM) to detect and report (and defeat) laser countermeasures.
Twenty-five states have legislation prohibiting radar or laser jammers, including Texas’ new law, S.B. 1376, which bans both radar and laser jamming devices as of September 1, 2011. We did not include the Obstructed Mode. We used a four lane highway, U.S. 80 in Fort Worth, TX, with a crest of a hill at 3,000 feet. After vehicles reached the crest, they went out of sight. Each laser was given two tries with results divided by two. We shot all vehicles going away aiming at the vehicle’s rear.
All laser guns reported within the 1,000 Foot Rule through the windshield regardless of whether they were in the INC/Weather modes or in the Normal Mode.
We’ve already discussed the 1,000 Foot Rule as mandated by the New Jersey Superior Court. In (rule-following) Canada, officers were told not to issue speeding tickets past 1,000 feet (304.8 meters). The first thing they did was to see who was the “Distance King.” Who could target at the greatest distance? We saw the same thing when we recently tested in El Paso, TX. Officers in both Canada and the U.S. wanted to know who the “Distance King” was among laser guns. To find out, we invited all laser gun makers to attend. Two of the manufacturers sent representatives and others sent equipment. Only certified police officers operated the laser guns and they were mounted on tripods to diminish hand shaking. We used a white Chevrolet Cruze as the target vehicle. Remember, the courts have ruled consistently that laser distance readings past 1,000 feet are questioned. Why? The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in Barberton v. Jenny, cite as Barberton v. Jenny, 126 Ohio St. 3d 5, 2010-2420, that an officer’s “Valid Visual Tracking History” is the best evidence, saying, “A police officer’s unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed is sufficient evidence to support a conviction for speeding without independent verification (radar or laser speed reading) if the officer is trained and certified.” This Ohio Supreme Court Decision was rescinded by the Ohio Legislature by the enactment of HB 86 of September 30, 2011, # 4511.091 of the Revised Ohio Code. The legislation preserved the necessity of a Valid Visual Tracking History, but reinstated the use of police radar and laser speed measuring systems called mechanical timing devices in the legislation. If we put three white cars at 2,000 feet, it’s impossible to tell which is the Ford, the Chevrolet, or the Dodge. This means that officers can’t determine a Valid Visual Tracking History at that distance. If defense attorneys quote the New Jersey Superior Court ruling, a laser speed reading past 1,000 feet will not be accepted on two grounds: It violates the 1,000 Foot Rule; and recognition distance is exceeded in establishing a Valid Visual Tracking History. Laser officers need to write the distance and speed reading on each citation.
We wanted to see which laser gun could report the greatest distance, although this cannot be used in court. Each laser gun was set in the “range only mode.” The range/speed mode records slightly shorter distances. The scores are the average of two runs in each category; i.e., “Away from the Laser Gun” and “Toward the Laser Gun.” Who could see the Chevy Cruze the farthest? Laser guns are presented in alphabetical order. We only tested those guns provided by the manufacturers which appear on the most recent Conforming Product List (CPL) of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as of April 30, 2012 (see www.theiacp.org). We did not test all laser guns as some are no longer being manufactured, but still approved by the CPL. Twenty-seven (old and new) laser guns are listed on the CPL.
These all share bragging rights and they all reported consistent with the 1,000 Foot Rule. If tomorrow we had the same officers operating the same laser guns, different distance scores would be reported. Laser range is determined by particulate matter in the atmosphere, humidity, elevation, competing signals and the amount of sunlight reflection. We further confirmed the laser readings in a field test in Fort Worth, TX, using tripods. The bottom line after this latest testing was not surprising – new is better than old! Laser gun use is now approaching 50% of radar or laser guns sold and used in metropolitan cities.
About the Author: Carl Fors, President of Speed Measurement Laboratories Inc., has 28 years of experience in field-testing radar and laser devices. He serves many jurisdictions as an expert witness in radar and laser gun trials and teaches NHTSA standard Master Radar and Laser Instructor Certification courses at law enforcement agencies here and abroad. For more information, visit www.speedinglimits.com and www.radarsignals.net. He may be reached at [email protected] or at (817) 291-2396.