California cops

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Sir,

I am an English transplant, who has been taking your excellent magazine since the early fifties when I used to cycle to Silverstone and Goodwood, now living in Southern California. After reading your correspondence about unmarked police cars, I thought the situation here may be of interest to your readers.

First of all, California state law forbids law enforcement agencies from using “plain wrappers” (CB language for UPC) for traffic enforcement. Additionally, the California Highway Patrol are forbidden from using radar so this makes the contest more even. Although there is a blanket 55 m.p.h. speed limit here it would be impossible to enforce in the wide open spaces of the west short of assigning a patrol car to follow every car. While the CHP do give tickets for speeding these represent a small proportion of the violators. Instead they take the approach of prevention rather than prosecution by riding ahead of bunches of speeding cars and slowing them down to the limit; but once “Smokey” pulls off the bunch soon speeds up to 70 m.p.h. again. In the eastern states the situation is quite different and the highway patrol is a little more aggressive in its enforcement tactics.

As you are no doubt aware from recent hit records, Citizens Band radios are a popular means whereby motorists, and particularly truckers, keep each other informed of the presence of patrol cars, which is classed as aiding a felony and thereby illegal but, as far as I know, the CHP makes no attempt to combat it.

County sheriffs and city police are permitted to use radar and they do this in a very effective way. The detector unit, which looks like a small foghorn, is hung from the rear side window of the patrol car looking backwards and is connected to a mini-computer which can give an instant readout. As an added refinement, there is a connection to the car’s speedometer whereby the equipment can calculate the speed of any car within its range while on the move, even if it is going in the opposite direction. The usual modus operandi is for the “black and white” to hide in front of a parked car with engine running, wait for a speeding motorist and just drop in behind and stop him, all within a hundred yards or so. Generally, they are not petty about it and usually don’t bother with people travelling within 5 m.p.h. of the speed limit. When you are given a ticket it is usually deserved. There are laws about entrapment (provoking) and harassment which eliminate most of the type of treatment some of your correspondents describe, although if you are suspected of some other crime they can become very persistent.

When the law officer writes you up for a ticket he also makes an appointment for you to attend a preliminary hearing, which he does not have to attend. If you intend to plead guilty all you need do is phone the court and determine the penalty (usually about 15 dollars plus one dollar per m.p.h. above the limit for a first offence) and mail it in before the hearing date. As probably more than 95(.. plead guilty, this saves a lot of police and public time. If you plead “innocent” then a date is fixed for a full trial.

Lomita, California, USA R. K. G. RENNIE