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Speeders get the picture thanks to Pasadena police and "Candid Camera" radar

May 07, 1987|LARRY ALTMAN | Times Staff Writer

Motorists who tend to speed on major residential streets in Pasadena may find themselves on a different version of "Candid Camera."

For the past month, the Pasadena Police Department has been experimenting with a hand-held radar gun that measures the speed of oncoming cars and displays the readings on a 2-by-3-foot digital screen. The figures are displayed in orange numerals and are big enough for drivers, police officers and anyone else coming down the street to see.

Although the department has used radar guns to catch speeders for about five years, this is the first time it has had screens on which to display the readings.

"The advantage is that the violators can visually see their speed," said Officer Don Herman, who pointed the radar gun at cars traveling on Hill Avenue between Mountain Street and Washington Boulevard during a recent demonstration.

Herman said most speeders slow down when they see the display because everyone around them can see that they are going too fast.

As Herman aimed the radar gun, approaching motorists braked abruptly when they saw the police car parked at the side of the road and their speeds displayed on the screen. By the time the motorists passed, all had slowed to near or below the street's 35-m.p.h. limit.

"I was noticing it hits 43 to 44 and then starts going down," said Fawzi Zedan, who lives on Hill Avenue and watched the radar demonstration as he tended his rose garden.

Lt. Jorge Garcia said the radar display serves as good public relations for the department. It shows that the police are trying to stop speeders. It also calms residents who complain about fast traffic on their streets--and often think that cars are traveling faster than they actually are.

Although some motorists exceed the speed limit, Garcia said, most do not.

"(The radar display is) a public awareness tool. People can come out and take a look. We know they're not speeding, but the public does not believe us," Garcia said.

Garcia said the department's single radar gun and display is being used at different times of day throughout the city, primarily on residential streets where neighbors have complained about speeding.

Sgt. C. E. Gray, who is in charge of traffic enforcement, said the department's goal is not to write more traffic citations but to inform drivers--who may be daydreaming--that they are going too fast. Gray said that while no more tickets than usual have been written because of the radar, some speeders have been cited.

"People can see what they're doing. They are speeding, and they should realize what their car is doing and how dangerous it can be," Gray said.

During the demonstration, most vehicles registered speeds of 25 to 44 m.p.h. If a driver had been going faster than 48 m.p.h., the officers would have pulled him over and issued a ticket, Gray said, adding that officers always give motorists a little leeway before writing a ticket for speeding.

Several residents of the stretch of Hill Avenue between Mountain Street and Washington Boulevard said they had complained about speeding and were pleased that the police were trying to do something to stop it.

John Deutsch, a Hill Avenue homeowner since 1955, said the street is "like a freeway" because cars that exit the 210 (Foothill) Freeway at the Hill Avenue off-ramp hardly slow down for the next half-mile.

"I'd be more than happy to see the cops out here. They can sit in my driveway if they want to," Deutsch said.

Zedan, who has lived on Hill Avenue for 10 years, said: "People get off the freeway and they're still on the same pace. You see them zipping by at 50 to 60 m.p.h. I'm delighted (the police) are trying to do something about it."

The Pasadena traffic and transportation section of the Public Works Department purchased the radar gun and display screen for $1,200 in December after watching a demonstration by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, said Chuck Eccleston, Pasadena's traffic and transportation engineer. The transportation section, which determines speed limits, loaned the radar gun to the Police Department last month to use in a study of how to reduce speeding in the city, Eccleston said. The study will be completed next month.

Eccleston said a similar radar unit is used in some Eastern U. S. cities as a safety device. Radar screens are attached to overpasses or bridges to measure cars' speeds as they approach the ends of expressways. If a car is traveling too fast, the numbers flash to alert the driver to slow down, he said.

The Police Department will use the radar display for a month to see whether it deters speeding. Then the city will decide whether to purchase more radar guns and displays, Eccleston said.

But buying more radar guns might not solve the speeding problem.

"I just don't speed when I see them," said one Hill Avenue resident, adding that she liked her street's quick pace.

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