UPDATE: Ask A Cop: Can I See the Radar, Officer?

Blogger’s Note: Columnist-slash-cop Steve Sutherland, a veteran officer with the Bainbridge Island Police Department, is back to field another question. Feel free to write more questions or responses below. For more past editions, click here.

The question, courtesy of blog commenter “A sailor”: Does an individual who pulled over for speeding, have a right to request to see the radar gun used and the speed it registered from the officer? I was informed years ago, that since this is the evidence they are using to issue me a citation, I have a right to see it. Appreciate you taking the time to answer.

The answer from Officer Sutherland: Yes, you can request to look at the radar, however, there is no written law that an officer must allow you to look at the speed showing on the radar.

I believe most officers would grant your request to look at the radar reading. It’s been my practice for years to offer to show the radar reading to any driver who has expressed some doubt that he or she was speeding.

UPDATE: Captain Tom Wolfe, chief of Bremerton’s patrol divison, adds these remarks about checking the radar:

The ability to look at the radar is solely at the officers discretion. There is no requirement. The reasons from the officers point of view for saying no are 1) Safety of the violator 2) Safety of the Officer.

To allow a citizen to get out of their car in a high traffic area and come to the drivers side of the car is dangerous for the officer and the citizen. Numerous officers every year are struck by cars during traffic stops, many are killed.

The other reason is the officers’ own safety. An angry motorist contained in their vehicle is one thing but to let them come out of the car and into the front area of your patrol unit is asking for trouble. The officer has explained the stop and the radar reading; nothing is going to change by looking at the flashing number on the radar screen. The officer is not obligated by law to defend the stop at the scene. That is what court is for.
The citizen can subpoena records and information that they deem necessary for their defense at the time of their court appearance.

One other bit of information that may help is that an officer who is doing his/her job properly is not writing a ticket based on what the radar tells them, they should be
estimating your speed visually then confirming that estimation with a speed measuring device. In State v. Peterson the court ruled that a ticket based solely on the radar is not valid for proof that the citizen was speeding.

Officers are trained to estimate vehicle speed. After training and experience they can get within a couple mph of the speed of a car. In the end there is nothing gained by seeing the radar screen. There was one case where the officer stopped a citizen for speed, allowed him to come back and the number had been unlocked and deleted when the officer got out of the car to contact the violator. This fact was not enough to get the ticket dismissed. Again, what is required is that the officer objectively observe a violation, and confirm that with a speed measuring device.

Next week: Officer Sutherland will tackle whether officers can run license checks on drivers from states other than Washington.

Steve Sutherland has been a Bainbridge Island Police officer for eleven years. He also worked as an officer for the Suquamish Tribal Police Department for almost four years. He’s currently an instructor for the Bainbridge department in defensive tactics, Taser and pepper spray. He lives on Bainbridge and enjoys relaxing, working in his yard, and reading (fiction mostly).

3 thoughts on “UPDATE: Ask A Cop: Can I See the Radar, Officer?

  1. The other reason that an officer may not want to have a citizen come look at the radar is safety. If you are on a busy road the officer does not want you and he/she in traffic while you are outside your car looking at the flashing number on the radar. The other issue that most people do not realize is that the radar reading in and of itself does not qualify you for a ticket. The officer through training and experience must first estimate your speed which with training and experience they can get good enough to estimate speeds within plus or minus 2-3 mph. The radar is used to confirm the observation. The two prong approach is designed to make for a fair process and help avoid bad tickets being issued. If the only factor used to issue a ticket is the radar then most courts will reject the ticket. You do have the right to subpoena information on the radar for your case. The need to “check” the radar on scene is not really needed.

  2. I agree for safety concerns about asking to see the radar, but what if the officer states he has already cleared it (the radar)? Does that make a case for dismissal?

    A sailor — I highly doubt it. As Captain Wolfe added in this entry, it seems like the radar reading is just one part of the violation. An officer has to build a case against a traffic violator using a number of factors — not just radar.

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