Tag Archives: WSP

Using radar with rearview mirror is unorthodox

The in basket: Ron Perkerewicz e-mailed to say, “I noticed today a WSP pickup using a hand-held radar reflecting off his rearview mirror to check traffic coming up behind him by Parr Ford. My questions are, how accurate is that, are the units calibrated for this and is this legal?

“No, I did not get a citation I was traveling the opposite direction.”

The out basket: State Trooper Russ Winger, who speaks for the local patrol office, says, “I cannot speak to the observations/assumptions of your writer other than to say officers are not trained to use the rearview mirror as a reflector. Although they will function like this (poorly), Lidar (laser) and Doppler speed monitoring devices are not calibrated for this type of use. Standard operating procedure for using both types is direct line of sight.”

Maybe the trooper was testing the technique out of curiosity.


Kitsap sharing in shortage of state troopers

The in basket: When State Trooper Russ Winger answered a Road Warrior question a few weeks back about speed patrols near the Southworth and other ferry terminals, he said part of the problem was a reduction in the number of troopers assigned to Kitsap County from 27 to 17 in the past two years.

I asked the reason for that rather steep drop, and was reminded of the question when I saw a TV report of how far behind the patrol is in filling its allotted number of trooper positions.

So I asked again.

The out basket: Russ replied, “The bottom line is that we are having difficulty attracting, screening, hiring and training enough qualified applicants to fill many positions. This is a law enforcement problem in general and particularly within the WSP due to attrition through retirements and also some loss of personnel to other agencies.

“Locally we have lost those 10 positions due to downsizing and reallocation of personnel to other APA’s (Autonomous Patrol Areas) within the state. This is a statewide agency problem.  When personnel retire or otherwise leave the agency the positions are just left unfilled. We currently have one complete detachment (six troopers) that is unfilled in our area. The remaining four vacant positions in the two detachments remain unfilled.

“Remember that the 17 troopers working in Bremerton is a best case scenario. With sickness, training, vacations and various other demands that pull troopers off of the road, very rarely is there full detachment coverage. For coverage purposes, we have divided the manpower into two detachments of troopers that provide 24/7 coverage.

“Our job is to provide, assistance, security and safety on our highways. We do this by having troopers out working the highways every day and night. Our troopers continue to work hard to do this, even with diminishing manpower.

“The agency is working on ways to streamline and improve the hiring process. We have the need and funding to sustain these open positions so hopefully these efforts will help reverse or slow the continued loss of manpower statewide.”

Aircraft help cite speeders here

The in basket: State Trooper Russ Winger tweeted an aerial photo recently, taken from a Washington State Patrol plane he was in during speed enforcement on Highway 3. The photo appeared to be of the stretch between the Mountain View Road overpass and the Highway 308 interchange near Bangor. I’ve known that such airplane-assisted patrols occur here. They are the reason you see painted Vs on the shoulder of our freeways, used to time cars as they pass between them.

But I wondered how often the planes are assigned here, if they can work at night, how the ground patrol units make sure they get the right car and whether ticketed motorists are told that they had been clocked from above.

The out basket: Russ told me, “We do aircraft patrols in Kitsap County on average of 2-4 times a month in the better weather months. Sometimes less and very rarely more.

“The aircraft can (keep) up to 5-6 troopers busy but most areas, like Kitsap, do not have that many available so it is usually 2, 3 or 4. Normally we will work the emphasis for two hours, sometimes slightly less or longer depending on circumstances.

“We do not work these at night in Kitsap County. The aircraft are capable of working at night using night vision and recording equipment. Most speed patrols, however, are done in the daytime hours.

“The aircraft utilize marked ‘courses’ on certain segments of highways. They are marked in half-mile segments with the ‘Vs’ you mentioned. Up to three, sometimes four, segments or half-mile checks can be attained  on a vehicle prior to ground units stopping the vehicle. In this situation, specialized digital stop watches are used to calculate speed using simple time distance to determine vehicle speed. The pilot tries to get at least two half-mile checks in to get a good idea what the vehicle speed is. Only one check is required, however.

“It is fairly easy to see vehicles that appear visually to be traveling above the posted limit and also faster than the surrounding traffic. The pilot starts his speed checks on these vehicles. Sometimes they do not work out and the pilot continues observing for better targets. Most courts have accepted the validity of this type of enforcement technique and support its use.

“The pilot radios ground units the vehicle speed, color and sometimes the model; SUV, truck, car, semi, etc., as well as lane position and time of check. The pilot keeps his eyes on the vehicle while ground units move into position —  usually from the freeway on-ramp — to stop the vehicle. The pilot monitors the vehicle until the ground unit is directly behind (it), assuring that the correct vehicle is being stopped.

The pilot can also relay more violation information such as unsafe following distance and improper or erratic  lane changes that may be observed.

“The trooper stops the vehicle, makes contact and advises the driver the reason (example, speed was checked at 77/79, utilizing aircraft).

“Occasionally some drivers are in disbelief of this and will ask to see this phantom aircraft. Troopers will usually take the time to point out the aircraft circling overhead.

“Occasionally a driver will complain that there are no signs on the road warning them of this aircraft spying on them. In Washington State, this is not required — and most likely would do little good.”




Reasoning behind WSP license designation

The in basket: Bremerton’s Byrd Thibodaux, as he’s calling himself these days, says, “Every state and local license plate I’ve seen has XMT on it, but not those of the Washington State Patrol. Why do they not have State XMT plates?  Does the WSP pay extra for these type plates?

“I’ve been told that the registration for unmarked state cars (like for investigators) has a fictitious name/address on the registration record.  Why is that needed since only authorized persons can access DOL vehicle registration records?” he asked.

The out basket: Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing, says, “Our state’s confidential license plate program provides two options for government and law enforcement agencies that would like to put ‘regular’ license plates on a government-owned vehicle used for law enforcement purposes.

“These agencies can choose to have the vehicle record reflect the agency’s ownership and include the agency name and address on the vehicle record,” he said. “This is the option most commonly chosen when an agency is using an “unmarked” vehicle and doesn’t want it to stand out based on the license plates.

“The second option is getting a confidential plate that shows a fictitious registered owner name and address on the record. This option is used when a vehicle is being used for undercover operations when the ownership of the vehicle, if discovered, could jeopardize an ongoing investigation or endanger the safety of officer using the vehicle.

“When these types of plates are issued to an agency, we also provide a registration certificate that include the fictitious name and address provided by the agency applying for the undercover plate. This is important in case a passenger sees the registration, the undercover officer is required to show it for some reason, or the vehicle is broken into.

“While it is certainly true that access to vehicle records is limited, there are situations where individuals or businesses with access to vehicle records could come across this information and potentially jeopardize an investigation. For example, this could happen if the vehicle is towed or gets a ticket in a private parking lot. And, of course, the need to have a truly confidential license plate is very important if an officer from a law enforcement agency is called on to investigate an officer from another law enforcement agency.

“The Washington State Patrol does take advantage of the confidential plate program along with other local, state and federal agencies,” Brad said.

Trooper Russ Winger, spokesman for WSP here, added, “The WSP plates are used on marked and unmarked patrol vehicles are the officer’s badge number. These plates follow the officer when they are assigned another vehicle due to fleet rotation, when the officer moves to a new geographic work location or when the officer changes badge numbers due to promotion. The WSP pays DOL for the set initially ($3 per set) and the plates are used until they are worn or damaged beyond reasonable usage,” Russ said. “This is cost effective in that the WSP does not have to buy a new set each time a car is issued. I do not know the cost of supplying XMT plates but I don’t think it could be substantially different.”


Is it a 2, 3 or 4-second rule for following on a highway?

The in basket: I was cleaning out old e-mails when I came across one from Donald Payne, sent in 2008, to which I’d never attended.

“Yesterday I was signing up a senior driver for an AARP Senior Driver Class,” Don said, “and she said she had seen a program on TV in which two

Washington State Patrolmen were discussing, explaining and advocating a two-second following distance.  I saw the program myself, earlier, and

that’s what they were dealing with — a two-second distance.  “The lady said she was confused.  She is aware that the

State Driver’s Guide says four seconds; and having taken our class previously, she is aware of the three-second recommendation.

“So, the lady’s question is:  Which one is right?  Is it two, three, or four?

“What’s your take on the situation?”

The out basket: One of the troopers in question, Johnny Alexander, said he and Monica Alexander “may have briefly mentioned following distance during the KOMO Traffic Reports more than three-years ago. (That would have been around 2005.)

“However, we never participated in a television program where following distance was the topic,” he said. “The Department of Licensing Drivers Guide, page 71 – “Space Ahead,” indicates if you are driving 30 mph or less, the two-  to three-second rule is recommended.  However, at speeds higher than 30 mph, the four-second rule is recommended.  The Washington State Drivers Guide can be accessed through www.dol.wa.gov.

“We encourage our troopers to use the four-second rule.  Most troopers add one-second to the count to further reduce the chance of being the causing driver of a rear-end collision,” he said.

Since Don asked, my take on the situation is you’ll be darn lucky to maintain the recommended distance from the car ahead on a multi-lane highway in heavy traffic as some other driver will probably slide into the space, but it’s worth a try. It should be easily observed on a two-lane highway.

And in case this whole idea is foreign to you, here is how the driver’s guide says it works:

• Watch when the rear of the vehicle ahead passes a sign, pole, or any other stationary point.

• Count the seconds it takes you to reach the same spot: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one- thousand, four-one-thousand. You are following too closely if you pass the mark before you finish counting.

• If so, drop back and then count again at another spot to check the new following distance. Repeat until you are following no closer than four seconds.

Are VATS troopers a good use of the money?

The in basket: Bill Forhan volunteers as a docent at the naval museum next to the Bremerton ferry terminal on Thursdays and has been watching three or four state troopers he sees most Thursdays at the terminal. They’re there some Tuesdays, too, he said, and “sometimes they have a dog with them.”

They don’t seem to have a lot to do and “it seems like overkill” in providing security at the terminal, he said. “Four of them is probably costing us many hundreds or thousands of dollars” that might be better spent elsewhere, he said.

The out basket: As with most homeland security activities, not everything you might wonder about the Vessel and Terminal Security arm of Washington State Patrol is public information.

Sgt. Craig Johnson, who supervise VATS officers on the east side of the Sound and serves was part-time public information officer, said they won’t discuss staffing levels, when the troopers are likely to be where, or even how many VATS troopers there are altogether.

He says the fact that Bremerton is the headquarters city for the officers on the west side, and that Thursday is training day for their explosive sniffing dogs might explain some of what Bill sees. But he also wouldn’t say that four troopers, with or without a dog or dogs, is unusual for the Bremerton terminal.

Bill says the troopers mostly seem idle between ferry arrivals, and Craig said they definitely are busiest just before and during loading of a ferry. Then, dogs, if any are assigned at that moment, sniff for explosives in waiting vehicles and other officers watch the loading passengers. Between ferries they may have paper work or administrative duties.

I asked for any anecdotal information showing a particular success, conceding as I did that finding nothing is itself a significant measure of deterrence, Craig said only that the dogs have alerted to ammunition and such, showing that “the system works.”

There’s a bit more information on the VATS program onine at www.wsp.wa.gov/crime/vats.htm. It mostly emphasizes how patrolling by bicycle aids their work.

So whether they are overkill or they could be doing something more useful is as unknowable to the public, including me, as details of security staffing at Bangor.

Are Highway 304 HOV lanes enforced?

The in basket: William C. Simons of Grapeview writes, “Every time I come out or into Bremerton by the shipyard I watch the cars traveling in the HOV lane.  Over half of the cars traveling in the HOV lane are single occupant.

“I was wondering if there is any plan to enforce the two-person rule for travel in the lane.  To date it isn’t being enforced so they should just take the signs down and let everyone share the road.”

While I asked about it, I also asked how troopers can be sure of violations when someone lying  down in back, even an infant in a car seat, makes the driver eligible to use the HOV lane.

The out basket: The State Patrol did an emphasis patrol there one day last year, and Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the local detachment says, “I don’t feel it’s a safe assumption to say that the laws aren’t being enforced in the carpool lane along SR304.  Troopers do regularly work that area, but as with any area within the county, you shouldn’t expect to see a trooper there every day.”

I’m also told that reducing the hours of the HOV limitations on 304 remains under discussion.

As for my final question, Krista says, “In situations as you mentioned (car seats, tinted windows, person lying down, etc) once the mistake was realized, the driver would be let go.”