Expanded speed radar use sought in Mississippi

| 2/14/2007

Officials in one Mississippi town would like to get the green light from the state to post speed radar detection equipment along two thoroughfares within their city's limits. Two bills under consideration in the statehouse would grant them that authority while several other related efforts have died.

Legislation offered by Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr., D-Canton, and Sen. Joseph Thomas, D-Yazoo City, would grant the city of Canton permission to post speed radar cameras on Interstate 55 and U.S. 51. The town recently annexed land that includes new sections of I-55.

State law now restricts the use of speed radar detection equipment to the Mississippi Highway Patrol and city police departments. Cities with populations of less than 2,000 are prohibited from using radar on their public streets while cities of more than 15,000 can use radar on federal highways within their boundaries.

Canton doesn't qualify for the expanded authority because the last census in 2000 listed the city's population at less than 13,000.

Townsfolk say city police need the expanded authority to help them cope with the increased area of coverage, the Madison County Journal reported. They also say that by the time the next census rolls around in 2010 the population of the city will eclipse the 15,000-people threshold.

The bills - HB1569 and SB3097 - to grant the city expanded authority are in their respective Local and Private committees.

While the Canton package remains active a handful of other bills to expand the use of radar by sheriff's deputies in the state have died.

Efforts to expand radar use in the state historically have struggled as opponents say the enforcement tool could be used to set up speed traps and rake in revenue from tickets. Supporters counter that the use of radar would help in places where the population is growing outside city limits.

One of the failed efforts - HB613 - allowed sheriffs in all counties to use radar on public streets, roads and highways of the county lying outside the limits of an incorporated city.

Three other bills allowed sheriffs to use radar enforcement based on the counties population. The first bill - HB458 - limited radar use to sheriffs in counties with populations of at least 65,000. The second bill - HB61 - limited it to counties with more than more than 70,000 people while the third bill - HB142 - limited it to counties with more than 115,000 people.

The proposals for radar use didn't end there.

One bill - HB13 - allowed sheriffs in Rankin, Hinds and Madison counties to use radar on public streets, roads and highways lying outside the limits of an incorporated city.

Two more bills limited radar use to sheriffs in Rankin and Jackson counties. The bills were HB78 and HB143, respectively.

Another bill authorized the Mississippi Department of Transportation to use radar on state highways to enforce speed limits solely on large trucks. The measure - HB425 - permitted the agency's law enforcement officers to track speeds of commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle weight in excess of 10,000 pounds.

One other effort sought to place additional limits on some speed enforcement. The bill - HB58 - prohibited the use of radar on state or federal highways within 1,000 feet of where the posted limit is reduced by 10 mph or more.

All of the bills that died remained in committee at a deadline to advance to the chamber floor.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor