by Duane Johnson #280

How far away can your radar pick someone up”???

I get asked this one every once in a while by someone I have stopped for speeding. I have seen many different radar units since I first started out in law enforcement in 1988 at age 21. The first one I used when I started out with the Antlers, Oklahoma Police Department was a dreadful, large and noisy thing. The one I have today is a compact, state-of-the art unit purchased by our local D.A.’s office with asset forfeiture funds.

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 It is fast, user friendly and is simply a highly efficient computer that uses radar to measure speed. Despite all the features of todays radar units, they work basically the same way radars did in the 1960’s when radar units first started becoming available for speed enforcement. (I have been told that) Speed checking radar units simply shoot out a “beam” which reflects back to the sending radar unit where the “counting” unit measures the speed of vehicles. In the old days most radar units were handheld and would only work when the patrol unit was stationary. (not moving) Todays new radars can work moving or stationary, and can track the speed of multiple vehicles both coming towards the patrol unit and going away. As for range, that depends on many factors. Weather can limit range in the case of heavy snow or rain. Windshield wipers can disrupt the radar beam. Terrain such as hills and trees can effect the range. Generally, if I can see a car in a clear path my new radar can usually measure the targets speed. Since radar simply bounces off objects such as cars and returns to the radar unit “targets” such as semi’s are the easiest to pick up. They have a much larger profile coming at you. Very small and low profile vehicles such as sports cars are harder to pick up at longer ranges. The higher the speed of the target vehicle the easier it is to pick up generally. The radar emits an audible tone which an operator/officer must use, along with his visual estimate to all three agree to make a citation legal and ethical. Radar is simply a tool. It’s effectiveness and ethical use depend on the ethics and training of the law enforcement officer using it. There is no short and sweet answer to how radar works. Police officers are simply “operators” of the instrument. I do not know the intricate workings of radar instruments, I just know they do work to measure speed. All troopers receive a lot of training in the use of radar as do most other law enforcement officers. Experience and training are what makes the use of these intruments effective and ethical. I once had a man yell at me during a stop over a speeding citation and say “Those things lie!!!” in reference to the radar unit. Computers do not lie. As with all machines and computers, their effectiveness and accuracy lies with the person operating them…….

You may contact Trooper Johnson at

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