Legislation may pave way for deputies to use radar to enforce law

Published 11:33 am Monday, January 18, 2016

Speeding in the county is something local sheriff’s offices have little control over, but new legislation is looking to change that.

The Mississippi Sheriff’s Association is bringing a bill to the legislature for sheriff’s deputies across the state to be able to use radar for speeding citations, which they have not been able to do before.

“It is against the state law for a sheriff’s office to enforce speed by use of any device,” Warren County Sherriff Martin Pace said.

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County offices, like the local board of supervisors and sheriff’s office, don’t have control over speeding on county roads; he said it was entirely up to the state. The state statues that require counties to post a speed limit, he said, also prohibit the speed limit from being enforced.

“The vast majority of our serious accidents on county roads involve speed,” Pace said.

Pace said the Warren County Sherriff’s Office receives more complaints about fast and reckless driving than burglary, larceny and domestic violence calls combined.

“Yet we remain the only state in the nation where speed limits can not be enforced on county roads,” Pace said.

In Mississippi, the Mississippi Highway Patrol, college campus police departments, municipal police departments with a population of over 2,000 people can all use radar. Pace said sheriff’s offices are responsible for monitoring county roads, which cover greater area, and yet can’t use radar.

“The entire city of Vicksburg is 33 square miles. Warren County is 618 square miles. We are policing 500 miles of county roadways within that 600 square miles, and that does not count private roads or state or interstate highways,” Pace said.

There is a misconception, he said, where some in the legislature believe the sheriff’s office would profit on the citation fees by setting up speed traps.

“That dates back to prior to 1970 when sheriff’s offices in Mississippi operated on a fee system. That system has not been in place for over 40 years,” Pace said. “Sheriff’s offices operate on a budget provided by the Board of Supervisors. It doesn’t matter whether we write 100 tickets or none, none of that revenue goes to the sheriff’s office nor to the officers.”

He said officers have no incentive, or ulterior motives, to hand out tickets other than to try to keep citizens safe, which the public in large part is requesting. Allowing deputies to have radar would give his office the tools to address citizens’ complaints, he said. As it stands, he said the office is not equipped to handle their concerns.

Pace said he has spoken with local representatives who have told him they are in favor of the bill to allow deputies to use radar. Sen. Briggs Hopson III, R-Vicksburg said he supports of deputies using radar.

“It’s a means to make sure that we keep our roadways safe, keep people from driving at high speed and having unnecessary accidents,” Hopson said.

The cost of bringing radar to Warren County is something Pace has never had the opportunity to examine.

“I’ve never priced it,” Pace said. “I’ve been in law enforcement over 30 years and never worked for an agency that used in type of speed detection device.”

Hopson said it would be a county expense.