Los Altos cops can't use radar guns to cite speeders

By Melanie Carroll
MediaNews
San Jose Mercury News

Article Launched:06/21/2007 06:17:59 AM PDT

 

Two weeks ago, Los Altos Police Chief Bob Lacey distributed a memo instructing officers not to use radar guns for clocking drivers because the city has failed to update state-required speed surveys.

"Until new speed surveys are completed, you are directed to discontinue the use of radar enforcement to affect traffic stops," the June 7 memo says.

By then, however, officers had long since stopped using the electronic devices, knowing that several tickets based on the clocked speeds were dismissed in court for being invalid.

"This is very troubling for us," said Police Agent Scott Bunch, who works the traffic beat. "School's out and we need to make it (catching speeders) a priority."

Bunch said traffic enforcement officers stopped using their radar equipment in April or May because tickets based on the devices wouldn't hold up in court.

For Los Altos the problem began in February, when Palo Alto Traffic Court Commissioner Steven Yep dismissed a ticket after ruling that the city's 2001-2002 speed surveys - data compiled to determine speed limits - are out of date and fail to comply with state and federal regulations.

School zones, where the speed limit is universally 25 mph, are the only places in Los Altos where radar gun speed readings are valid.

To ticket speeders on side streets or busy thoroughfares such as El Camino Real, Foothill Expressway and San Antonio Road, police officers now must "pace" close behind them to clock their speed. Otherwise, they look for dangerous drivers who can be cited for running a stop sign or committing other infractions, officers and traffic engineers said.

Police Chief Lacey said he'd prefer that word doesn't get out about the difficulty of catching speeding drivers in Los Altos because some motorists might take advantage of the situation. "Is this the right thing for public safety?" Lacey asked. "Someone could die."

Acting Assistant Public Works Director Jim Gustafson acknowledged his department is ultimately responsible for updating the speed surveys. He said Los Altos isn't the only city in that predicament, but couldn't name another.

Los Altos Traffic Engineer Tom Ho, meanwhile, is in the process of hiring a consultant to do new speed surveys. Ho said the first phase of the surveys - speed analyses on El Camino Real, San Antonio Road and other major roads - will begin in a matter of weeks.

"We're under the gun to get the speed surveys done so we can go back to enforcing the speed limits," Ho said.

E-mail Melanie Carroll at mcarroll@dailynewsgroup.com.