Sheriff's office changes tune

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The Moffat County Sheriff's Office will submit its tuning forks for state evaluation despite taking a stand earlier this week that certification is not mandatory.

Officers use the tuning forks to check the accuracy of radar guns before they patrol traffic. The sheriff's office was listed along with numerous Colorado law enforcement agencies that don't submit their forks for state certification.

Sheriff Buddy Grinstead countered by citing a 1980 Colorado Supreme Court case that said using two tuning forks could suffice in the absence of one certified fork.

On Monday, Grinstead said he wasn't sure there was a state statute requiring certification.

He has since found a statute that changed his mind. It is Colorado Revised Statute 35-14-105.

It states that law enforcement measuring instruments must be issued a "certificate of conformance."

"What we'll plan on doing at this point is mailing in our tuning forks and allowing the state to perform their calibration," Grinstead said.

"We've been doing what we thought was appropriate," Grinstead said. The sheriff's office has been submitting its forks to a private company for certification.

But following the strict state guidelines will give him peace of mind, Grinstead said.

One expert in the radar industry said it should take a lot more than certified tuning forks to give law enforcement agencies peace of mind.

Dick McCreary owns Ohio Calibration Laboratories and has been working with radar technology for 25 years.

McCreary said the tuning fork test is a simple test that doesn't really ensure a radar gun's accuracy. It only ensures that the gun is at least registering frequencies.

A gun that can accurately detect the frequency of a tuning fork held mere inches away may appear to be working, but "will it detect the automobile downrange 1,500 feet and in the presence of other moving and nonmoving objects?" McCreary said.

He outlined the cumbersome process radar gun manufacturers must go through to get their products licensed and available to police. Numerous agencies rigorously evaluate the devices before they are put on the market.

"Needless to say, by the time the new product actually reaches the market, it has been so thoroughly tested, there is little doubt of its capability, reliability and performance expectations," McCreary wrote in an email to the Craig Daily Press.

Agencies should send the actual guns in annually to be thoroughly retested, McCreary said.

It may seem overly cautious, but law enforcement agencies will be thankful when a high-profile case arises as a result of a traffic stop.

McCreary imagines a situation in which officers stop a car for speeding and later find that the driver is transporting illegal drugs.

The whole case could be thrown out for lack of probable cause if the radar gun that initiated the stop was found to be faulty, McCreary said.

In such a case, police would face defense attorneys who could call in experts to testify about the complex series of electronic events that take place inside a radar gun. Those experts, McCreary said, would point to the relative futility of a tuning fork test.

If police had their guns annually retested to make sure they were up to the original performance standards, it would cause police fewer headaches in the future.

Defense attorneys would be saying, "let's look for another weak spot in the case, because the radar gun isn't a weak spot," McCreary said.

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

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