Speeding to a different tune

Law enforcement officers could be required

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Motorists in Craig won't be able to use a newly discovered loophole to get out of speeding tickets written by Craig Police, but tickets written by the Moffat County Sheriff's Office may be a different story.

Police use metal tuning forks to calibrate their radar guns each day before they clock traffic.

According to a story publicized by Denver's News 4 on Feb. 5, a state law requires law enforcement agencies to submit their tuning forks for state certification and more than half the state's law enforcement agencies aren't in compliance with that law. The agency that certifies the tuning forks is the Colorado Department of Agriculture's Weights and Measurements section.

News 4 published a list of agencies that had not submitted their equipment to the state, and the Craig Police Department was not on the list.

"We've always been in compliance," Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said.

The Moffat County Sheriff's Office was not in compliance, however.

Sheriff Buddy Grinstead said his office submits the forks for certification to a private company -- not the state. Every six months, the sheriff's office sends the forks off to Midwest Radar for certification.

Grinstead said he's checking to find out if the state will accept Midwest's certificate. He sent a letter of inquiry to the County Sheriffs of Colorado, Inc. Grinstead is a member of the organization's board of directors. The organization provides advocacy, resources and information to sheriff's offices in Colorado.

Also, Grinstead said he's not sure there is such a "law" requiring annual certification.

Grinstead said he and Craig Police Cpt. Jerry DeLong are looking into the law to see how it applies to law enforcement agencies.

"The plot gets a lot thicker," Grinstead said. The outcome of Grinstead and DeLong's inquiry was not available at press time.

Because of the cost of the certifications, Grinstead said his office recently decided to recertify the forks once a year, instead of every six months.

The Moffat County Sheriff's Office's tuning forks were up for another annual test in December. Grinstead said his office needs to arrange a test soon.

The sheriff's office doesn't write a lot of speeding tickets, Grinstead said. And his officers very seldom are called to court to testify about a ticket.

DeLong said Craig Police aren't called to court for speeding tickets very often.

"I don't know when was the last time an officer had to go to court for a speeding ticket," DeLong said.

Grinstead and Vanatta said they heard a buzz in law enforcement about News 4's story before the piece ever aired.

Vanatta heard about it from the Colorado Association of Chief's of Police. Departments were advised that they may need to acquire other certified tools, including a "certified ruler."

"They told us it might not hurt to have one around, especially for high-profile cases like homicide," Vanatta said.

Vanatta said he doesn't expect problems, even though the department doesn't have a certified ruler. Officers are instructed to use approximate lengths when they write reports. Instead of writing that a hole was "exactly seven-eighths of an inch," officers use the word "approximately."

"Frankly, I don't know that it's a huge issue," Vanatta.

Still, defense attorneys could point to uncertified tools in arguing for their clients. Vanatta said ensuring a tool's accuracy is important for law enforcement, but splitting hairs over a tool's state certificate sometimes is an attempt, "to avoid the real issue," Vanatta said.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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