Police watch drivers’ speed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 19, 2006

With two major U.S. Highways, it is difficult for the Demopolis Police Department to constantly patrol traffic.

Now, they have help. Last week several drivers probably noticed the departments new speed detection unit stationed on U.S. Highway 80. The unit was stationed on U.S. Highway 80 for the last two weeks and recorded speeds of up to 83 miles-per-hour in a 45 mile-per-hour zone.

The tracking device’s presence generated a lot of buzz, Demopolis Director of Public Safety Jeff Manuel said. Lots of rumors have surfaced regarding the machine, he said, but the purpose was actually very simple.

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“A lot of people think it has cameras in it and it is taking a picture of them and we will send them a ticket,” Manuel said. “What we are hoping is that people will see it and slow down.”

Yesterday, the department set the speed tracker up at the corner of Herbert Street and Lake Lane. While preparing the device for an afternoon of work, Sgt. Tim Williams explained getting it ready was really no different than a radar gun as far as preparing the machine once it is in place.

“We do it the same way as we do radar for a car,” Williams said. “We calibrate it the same way. When people say they run across it and the speed was wrong, we know it’s not true.”

The machine lets drivers know they are speeding by displaying their rate in digital numbers. If speeders exceed the limit, the numbers appear in red flashing numerals. If drivers exceed the limit by enough, the device simply goes blank. This, Manuel said, prevents people from seeing how high they can make the numbers go.

While warning speeders is definitely an asset of the machine, Williams said, there is another purpose. The machine, Williams said, is a great source data.

“The best thing about this trailer is it gives us great information,” Williams said. “It keeps track of how fast traffic is moving and how many cars of them are passing through. It gives us a great idea of where our problem areas are.”

The department plans to place the machine – which picks up speeders in both directions – all over town to find problem spots. Once the spots are located, the department will up patrols and hopefully, Manuel said, make the city streets and highways a safer place.

In the future, the department also hopes to get smaller versions of the machine to place in neighborhoods.