Taking aim at speeders, Misawa base police upgrade radar equipment
November 7, 2004
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Attention motorists: The odds of getting caught speeding on base are about to go up.
By Nov. 30, the 35th Security Forces Squadron will be able to track vehicle speed and distance with near 100-percent accuracy.
With speeding being Misawa’s No. 1 cause of accidents and the leading traffic complaint, the squadron is upgrading from two to six speed-trap devices: Three radar machines to be mounted inside patrol cars, and three hand-held laser guns.
The $17,000 in equipment was purchased by the 35th Fighter Wing.
Both systems improve greatly upon the squadron’s current, 10-year-old radar technology, said Staff Sgt. Lawrence McKnight.
The laser guns — called LIDAR for “Light Detection And Range” — track speed and distance through a laser beam with pinpoint accuracy, McKnight said.
“The error is less than 1 percent,” he said.
The beam can hone in on vehicles up to 3.7 miles away, whether a motorist is approaching or driving away.
Tracking distance in addition to speed gives more information — and a stronger case when issuing a ticket, he said.
While LIDAR must be stationary to work, the dashboard-mounted radar is mobile and can detect speed in front of or behind the patrol car.
“If somebody’s coming at the patrol car, with the mobile ones that we bought, they can pick them up while they’re moving,” said Senior Master Sgt. Darrin Nicholson, 35th Security Forces Squadron operations superintendent.
Both LIDAR and the new radar improve on the old technology, which bounced microwave frequencies off moving objects. The microwave beam widened farther out, and “if you had a lot of traffic, it was hard to determine which vehicle” the radar was reading, Nicholson said.
“There’s no doubt with this one,” he said of the laser system. “This is just a pinpoint.”
The squadron’s message to the base community: Slow down. Security officers don’t have speeding ticket quotas, McKnight noted, but speeding is a problem on base.
“The number one traffic complaint around here is speed. The number one cause of accidents around here is speed — speeding too fast for conditions,” especially in parking lots and school zones, Nicholson added.
Previously, only one patrol car was equipped with the old radar, Nicholson said. Now, cops can use LIDAR in their security forces vehicles or while on foot patrol, since the hand-held guns operate on batteries, and three patrol cars will be mounted with new radar.
“Now everybody out there who’s working law enforcement can have a radar in their hand,” Nicholson said.
Security forces are still testing the new equipment — and issuing tickets during test runs if they catch speeding motorists. The squadron plans to train all its personnel and fully employ the speed-tracking tools by the end of November, Nicholson said.