SUGAR CREEK — A Kansas City suburb that sits in the midst of three larger cities has voted to begin using a camera to help its small police department "patrol" for speeders.
Aldermen in the Jackson County community of Sugar Creek have unanimously approved using the camera, which is expected to arrive in about six weeks.
Herb Soule, Sugar Creek's police chief, said he is expecting criticism over the decision to buy the Multiple Vehicle Speed Tracking device. But he said the 17 officers in the town of 4,000 people between Kansas City, Independence and Liberty cannot monitor speeders, particularly along a busy four-lane highway on its eastern edge.
"I understand (critics') concerns," Soule said. "I don't want to be fanatical about it, but speed limits are not suggestions."
The camera will calculate a vehicle's speed and take a picture of the license plate. Any infraction will be considered a nonmoving violation because an officer did not witness it. Fines will be on a sliding scale, depending on speed and other factors, The Kansas City Star reported.
Sugar Creek plans to use the portable camera in various problem areas.
"I think it's a great safety measure to take, especially in areas where we know we have speeding problems," Mayor Stan Salva said. "I understand that there are some people upset, but I don't fully understand why."
Some drivers may complain about entrapment, said Larry Joiner, a former Kansas City police chief who represents B&W Sensors, a Sunset Hill company that markets the cameras.
"Drivers will see signs placed 300 feet in front of the camera," Joiner said. "But if drivers still speed after seeing them, what can you do?"
Tickets will include affidavits, so a person who was not driving a car when it triggered the speeding ticket can supply information about the person who was, Soule said.
And Soule said he was prepared to program the device to allow the few miles per hour of leeway that his officers usually allow drivers.
"I don't want to advertise what that is," Soule said. "But we do have a generous tolerance."
B&W Sensors has placed similar cameras in the St. Louis suburbs of St. Ann and Charlack, a company spokesman said. Charlack officials said earlier this month that the number of speeders on Interstate 170 had dropped 80 percent since the equipment was installed.
The camera is provided free in exchange for a percentage of the fines it generates, Soule said.
Soule, a member of the Metropolitan Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association, has discussed the device with his colleagues from other communities.
"At least a couple of them are thinking about using it," Soule said. "Some of them are waiting to see what kind of heat I get."
Soule, a Sugar Creek police officer for 44 years, has already heard some complaints.
"I had a meeting yesterday with a lady from a local company, a friend of mine," Soule said. "She said, 'Well, OK, Big Brother.'
"I just said, 'Sister, drive the speed limit.'"