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Buyer's Guide to Radar

Written by Jim Wells

Today’s traffic radar devices are available with many features. Some features may be better suited to certain jurisdictions or styles of traffic enforcement. If your budget receives close scrutiny or you have limited resources, you will want to seriously evaluate the features you choose, as additional features always have a cost. 

Dual Antennas

Forward and rearward facing antennas are useful for areas that run stationary radar from a location that allows the officer to clock vehicles from both directions. This can also be used to double verify a vehicle approaching either stationary or moving, as it can be clocked again from the rear antenna after it passes the patrol vehicle. Dual antennas are just about required for same lane clocking, as most of the vehicles clocked in this mode are approaching from behind. This feature is easily justified based on the extra efficiency gained for the additional cost.

Dual Display

The dual display is currently only offered on the Applied Concepts Stalker 2X. This unit allows the operator to monitor both the front and rear antennas at the same time. The unit provides two audio Doppler signals at two different pitches so you can determine which is the front and which is the rear. This unit is too new to determine if this feature will enhance officer efficiency in relation to the increased price. 

Direction Sensing

The ability to sense which direction the vehicle reflecting the signal is moving can be obtained in both handheld and moving radars. Some units also use this system to automatically determine if a vehicle being clocked in the same direction mode is moving faster or slower than the patrol vehicle and is an aid in this circumstance. Direction sensing radar is not as helpful for agencies that predominantly use radar in the moving mode as it is to agencies that do a lot of stationary radar. This feature is recommended if you do a lot of stationary radar because it reduces the chance for error and eases officer workload.

Fastest Speed Mode

The fastest speed feature allows you to clock two targets simultaneously. The radar will continue to clock the strongest signal as before, but will now also clock the fastest signal the radar is sensing. While one of the most useful features to be added to radar, this feature must also be used with caution. You must read your owner’s manual to determine how your individual radar handles this feature. 

For example, some moving radars reduce the range that the fastest signal may sense in order to assist the officer in determining which vehicle is the fastest target. If your unit does not do this, you must remain aware that the fastest vehicle could be well beyond the vehicle you are looking at and anywhere within the overall range of the unit. 

There are two ways to verify that your fastest target is the vehicle you are visually tracking. The first is to wait to see if the vehicle becomes the strongest signal (which sometimes does not happen in the example of a small car passing a large semi). The second is to allow the vehicle to pass you and watch if the display and audio Doppler change to another target when the vehicle passes out of the radar beam. 

The Kustom Signal Eagle series requires a special awareness. When in the fastest mode and the speed is locked, the fastest signal speed is locked and will continue to be tracked in the target window, not the strongest signal. This allows you to continue to track the vehicle for tracking history and verification, but do not assume that the fastest signal just happened to become the strongest at this point.

A warning note to anyone using fastest mode while stationary (this warning applies to both handheld and moving units used in the stationary mode): Unless the unit is direction sensing, you must be careful using fastest mode when stationary. Remember, the unit clocks both approaching and receding vehicles simultaneously. Just because you are tracking a strongest signal in one direction, does not mean the fastest signal is coming from the same direction. It is very possible for example, to have your strongest signal approaching, and another approaching vehicle overtaking the strongest target. 

Rear Collision Alert

The rear collision alert feature is only currently offered on the Applied Concepts Stalker 2X.  This uses the rear antenna to look for vehicles that are traveling at a speed significantly higher than the patrol vehicle (preset from the factory is a 20mph difference) and only works when the vehicle is in motion. The unit will not display the speed of the approaching vehicle; it will only show a visual and audible alert. This feature is so new we don’t know if officers will use this feature or tire of the additional noise. I must, however, applaud the attempt to increase officers’ awareness of the possibility of a high-speed rear end collision.

Speedometer Interface

The speedometer interface is another feature that is becoming more widespread. Only necessary for moving radars, this feature does help, particularly if you work in areas with heavy traffic or a lot of truck traffic. This feature does not actually generate the patrol speed in the radar but helps the radar verify which returning signal belongs to the patrol vehicle. This will help a radar operator who makes good use of the instant on feature of most moving radars. This feature helps the radar determine the patrol speed more quickly and accurately, aiding in obtaining an accurate target speed as quickly as possible. 

I would not recommend this feature unless the radar is semi-permanently mounted in the patrol vehicle. The installation of the cable can be time-consuming and expensive if a shop is hired. Some systems are easier to install than others and this should be checked, before purchase, especially if you are installing this into a lot of cars. When installed in the Applied Concepts Stalker DSR and 2X, this interface automatically switches the unit between moving and stationary modes.

Stopwatch Mode

Some units have a function that will allow the unit to work as a time / distance speed calculator. This function is useful if you do time / distance (VASCAR-style) speed enforcement in your area. The time / distance function does not emit a radar signal, which can be detected. The technique also uses average speed, rather than peak speed, making this style of enforcement easy to defend in court.

Video Camera Interface

The video camera interface allows the taping of the radar’s speed display directly into the picture of the suspected violations on the tape. This record is useful for court, but is best utilized in digital video systems that allow the recorder to capture events monitored prior to activation of recording. Some of these digital systems will record the 30 seconds of events prior to the activation of the signal lights that turn on the recorder. This allows the evidence of the violation to be recorded as well. Obviously a tape system cannot do this. 

One very important thing to note if you want this feature is that not all systems interact well with units from other manufacturers. There is no true standard for the output signal from the radar or the input to the video recorder and that creates the occasional conflict. Most systems from the large manufacturers will work with each other, but check this before purchase if it is an important consideration.

Wireless Remote

A wireless remote is a feature offered on moving radars made by Applied Concepts, Kustom Signals and MPH as, generally, a no cost option. The wireless remote offers more flexibility in installation and reduces the number of wires that must be installed and secured out of the air bag path. While you do occasionally have to replace a battery or do other maintenance, this seems to be less of a problem than tracking intermittent outages caused when the wire starts to go bad in a wired remote. Lost or damaged remotes have not been a problem in our experience.

Frequency Band 

Should you select X-band, K-band or Ka-band? X-band is the lowest frequency at 10.500 to 10.550 GHz. K-band is at 24.050 to 24.250 GHz. Ka runs from 33.400 to 36.000 GHz. What is the difference? Besides cost, which goes up with the frequency, the antennas get smaller and generally have a narrower focus as the frequency gets higher. This makes the antennas easier to place in an already crowded vehicle and the narrower focus allows less opportunity for interference or stray signals to impact the unit. Ka-band is the favorite.

Mounting Options

All the manufacturers have several bracket designs already available for your vehicle type and installation preference. Antennas, counting units, display units and other pieces can become projectiles in vehicle collisions. It used to be standard practice to just use hook and loop fastener or bungee cords to secure the units. The radar and accessory pieces and wires must be secured out of the air bag zone. 

In addition, the wires and pieces must be routed and mounted so they don’t interfere with the operator controls or vision. Applied Concepts, Kustom Signals and MPH all have heavy-duty brackets specially designed to address these safety concerns. Some of them are easier to install than others, and all would encourage a semi-permanent installation rather than transfer with each shift. 

All these special brackets also position the unit well so that the display can be monitored without taking your eyes far from the driving task. Some departments mount the display units in the center console and other less useful places. It is hard to monitor your visual track with the display if you can’t just glance from one to the other. A poorly mounted display can also cause you to take your eyes off traffic while you are looking at the display.

Manufacturer Selection

You should request an evaluation unit before you buy and try it in your jurisdiction. This is particularly true if you are doing a large purchase. While radar in general has greatly increased in range, speed to acquire targets, and freedom from common errors, occasionally you may find an area within your jurisdiction, or a particular make and model of patrol car, which confounds a particular unit. Let experienced officers take the unit and use it, paying particular attention to areas that have shown troublesome in the past. 

You should have the officers fill out a written evaluation form to document their results, so that if a bidder is disqualified, you have the evidence to uphold your decision if the process goes to appeal.

A great source to determine quickly which radar units meet the Performance Standard written by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology is the list of tested devices maintained by the International Association of Chiefs of Police at www.iacp.org/profassist/radarcpl.doc. This list also has a chart that shows which performance features each radar has.

 

Jim Wells is a 21-year veteran with the Florida Highway Patrol, currently holding the rank of Lieutenant. Jim runs the Office of Equipment, Compliance and Testing. This office is responsible for certifying speed measuring equipment for use in the state of Florida. Jim can be reached at wells.jim@hsmv.state.fl.us. 

               

SIDEBAR #1

Company Profiles

Interestingly, none of today’s radar companies were around during the very early days of police radar. Some company names from the beginning that are no longer active in this industry include: Eastern Industries, Electrolert, Smith and Wesson, Dominator, Stephenson, West Bend, Tri-bar and Sentry. 

Decatur Electronics

www.decaturradar.com

Decatur Electronics is the oldest company still producing speed measurement radar. Founded in 1955 as Muniquip (short for Municipal Equipment), its original speed measuring device was not a radar but a time distance system using hoses placed across the road. Radar devices were soon added and the company had its first million-dollar sales year in 1963. 

In 1964 Bryce Brown, the founder of Muniquip, sold the name and many of his products to a firm in Toronto, Canada, and retained the radar portion of the business renaming it Decatur Electronics. Notable equipment from Decatur’s early years included the RaGun, the MVR and the Hunter. Brown also claimed to have developed the first directional radar even though earlier stationary tracing units could make the same distinction. 

In 1986 Decatur Electronics received a patent for a speedometer input to the radar unit. This feature is just now being promoted by others in the industry as it assists the radar in finding the correct patrol speed and almost eliminates the radar error known as shadowing. Of course, now the speedometer sends an electronic pulse to the counting unit in contrast to the mechanical spinning of the speedometer cable in the 1980s. 

In the mid to late-1980s, Decatur fell on hard times and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In 1989, Bob Sanner saw the potential for Decatur Electronics and bought the company. He revitalized the company introducing the then-revolutionary “miniature” Genesis I, the square “patch” antenna and soon to follow the even smaller Genesis II. Sanner retired in March 2003, but has already been recruited back and is hinting of another revolution in speed measurement soon to come. 

Late breaking news at Decatur has the company merging with ThunderWorks Mobile Engineering to provide turnkey-ready electronic systems and specialty vehicles in a variety of mobile law enforcement platforms including automobiles, motorcycles, command posts, etc.  

Kustom Signals

www.kustomsignals.com

Kustom Signals was founded in 1964 by Bud Ross to create music amplifiers. He changed the company’s direction in 1969 and produced the first digital display radar, the TR-6. The TR-6 was also the first radar to use a solid-state electronic Gunn Oscillator rather than the Klystron tube of previous units. This was a single window stationary unit operating on the X-band. 

Kustom also produced the first moving radar in 1972, the MR-7. The MR-7 did not resemble today’s units at all, having only one display window and having to be toggled between target and patrol speeds to verify correct operation. If you are old enough, you may remember the large antenna from the MR-7 hanging outside the driver’s-side rear window of patrol cars. Many other manufacturers also mounted their antennas in the same way or at least offered such mounts as an option. 

In 1974, Kustom created the first K-band handheld radar, the HR-8. In 1975, Kustom introduced the first two-window moving radar that could display patrol and target speeds simultaneously, the KR-11. The KR-11 is also claimed to be the first unit to use a microprocessor as the main logic controller in the unit. As with many units of the time, the KR-11 boasted automatic locks and alarms, features no longer used as they were found to interfere with tracking history. The KR-11 could also be used with a remote control and optionally could measure speed statistics and car counts that could be stored for later processing. 

Kustom Signals created the first same direction moving radar in 1985 with the HAWK. 

CMI

www.alcoholtest.com        

CMI was formed around 1970. Its first product was the Speedgun One, also known as the JF 100 for its designer Jack Fritzlen. The Speedgun One was the first handheld radar gun. The Speedgun One was also the first speed measurement radar to use a microprocessor. The Speedgun Two was the first handheld that could also be used as a moving radar. In 1988, the radar operations of CMI were transferred to MPH. Today CMI only produces breath-alcohol test instruments. 

MPH Industries

www.mphindustries.com 

MPH was founded in 1976. The first product was the K-55, an X-band radar with a much smaller antenna than the Kustom Signals MR-7 that could be mounted inside the vehicle. The K-55 was the first radar to have “instant on” activation using an attached accessory called the ECM that was introduced in 1977. The ECM held a violator’s locked speed so that the radar’s target window could continue to track a signal. The ECM also had its own internal batteries and screen so a violator’s locked speed could be carried to them and displayed.

In 1984, MPH introduced several new products that brought new features to the market. These included the S-80, which was the first moving radar with three windows built into the radar itself. Others had done the tracking through lock with an accessory attachment. This new feature allowed the user to lock the target speed and continue to monitor the target for verification purposes. The S-80 was the first radar designed for use on a motorcycle and was the first with Radio Frequency Interference, Low Voltage and Harmonic detection. 

The BEE 36 radar was also introduced in 1984 and was the first unit to have the display separate from the counting unit allowing flexibility in mounting the unit into police cars that were being downsized due to fuel economy concerns. These also fit nicely into the compact Ford Mustangs used by many Highway Patrols at the time. MPH also introduced the first dual antenna units this same year.

In 1986, MPH introduced the K-15 II, the first handheld radar with a separate lock window for continuous tracking of target vehicles once the speed was locked.

While MPH remained competitive with the introduction of the Python, the next big breakthrough for MPH was in 1998 with the introduction of the POP technology on the Z-25 and Z-35 handhelds. This mode allows the radar to return a speed more quickly than a driver or radar detector can generally react. While not a substitute for a good continuous clock with tracking history, this mode allows an operator to confirm his visual estimate without alerting possible violators of the presence of radar speed enforcement in the area.

In 2001, MPH released the BEE III and the Enforcer, which are claimed to be the first fully upgradeable radars.

Applied Concepts

www.stalkerradar.com 

During the late-1980s, the radar industry went into a small depression. While many cut back staffs of engineers and other employees to save money, a new company was being formed with these experienced personnel. That company originally founded in 1970 as Applied Concepts, Inc., and introduced its first radar, the STALKER, in 1990. This was the first Ka-band radar on the market. Applied Concepts took these experienced personnel and began to introduce some of the best performing radars of the 1990s. 

They followed the STALKER with the STALKER DUAL in 1994 that easily outperformed anything on the market at the time and had the best fastest mode performance. In 1998 Applied Concepts introduced the first direction-sensing moving radar, the STALKER DSR. Applied Concepts also revitalized the speedometer interface by providing the DSR with the ability to automatically switch from moving to stationary mode. 

While Applied Concepts was not the first to introduce the speedometer interface, this interface is now more widely used, because of the ability to reduce the effects of Batching, Shadowing and Harmonic Errors, and the fact that the new digital speedometers in patrol cars make tapping into the system easier. 

The latest innovation introduced to the market by Applied Concepts occurred at this year’s IACP convention in Philadelphia when it introduced the STALKER 2X. This radar can clock on the front and rear antennas at the same time with two sets of windows for target and fastest speeds. The rear antenna can also be used as a collision alert system by sensing the differential speed between the patrol car and vehicles approaching from the rear. Interestingly, MPH claims to have built a dual window radar similar to the 2X many years ago and never brought it to market.

ICOP Digital, Inc.

www.policeradar.com

ICOP was founded in 2003 when Ken McCoy joined with Bud Ross. McCoy started McCoy’s Law Line in 2001 after leaving Applied Concepts. Ross and McCoy have a long association going back to 1969 when they both worked at Kustom Signals. ICOP Digital, Inc. continues to sell the units produced under the McCoy’s Law Line brand, the Speed Trak Elite K, Ka and KD.

One of the most experienced people still active in the radar industry, McCoy has worked at or with virtually every current supplier of Traffic Radar, working at CMI after Kustom Signals and being a co-founder of MPH. While not listing Decatur as an employer on his resume, the first units sold by McCoy’s Law Line used some components produced by Decatur including the antenna. 

 

SIDEBAR #2

Radar Systems

By Peggy Wilkins Krainik

Radars have advanced to highly intelligent products that can tell which direction cars are driving, and the difference between trucks and the cars around and between them. The radar systems listed here are the top of the line.

Decatur Electronics

www.decaturradar.com

The Genesis Directional Handheld is a direction sensing radar, which means it can be used to scan traffic going in only one direction, but can show the using officer speed limits of vehicles both approaching and going away from the squad car. This handheld is available at only $495, with 32-bit DSP for quick readouts and quick focus on a target vehicle.

The radar is housed in polycarbonate, to guarantee function and accuracy even when carried regularly. And not only does the radar give the officer a speed readout, it functions with printers and laptops for easy storage and printing of the information.

Kustom Signals

www.kustomsignals.com

The Eagle Series Radar group includes six radars to fit every department’s individual needs: Directional Golden Eagle, Golden Eagle, Silver Eagle, Eagle Plus, Eagle and Motorcycle Eagle. These radars can distinguish a target speed from a fan speed, which means they can tell the difference between a speeding vehicle and a cruiser’s fan. TruTrak allows the speedometer to be connected to the radar, so the Doppler system searches a specific area and is very accurate.

The Directional Golden Eagle is the newest member of the Eagle Series. The Directional Eagle has a long shooting range, fast target acquisition and precise identification. Not only can it tell if vehicles are coming toward or moving away from the patrol vehicle, it can produce a speed for the strongest, slowest and fastest vehicles traveling in the same direction.

MPH Industries

www.mphindustries.com

The Enforcer Moving Radar System from MPH Industries has both manual same direction and fastest modes. This radar is compact so it will not need a lot of space during use, and its display is detachable for easy reading. Its antennas are the smallest on the market, and are waterproof.

The Enforcer can also manually measure the same direction traffic, only it has a fastest vehicle mode, which can easily locate the fastest vehicle in a group even in the presence of large vehicles like trucks.

To make it easier to use, or use while driving, the radar has a wired remote control with contoured buttons so the officer will have to pay as little attention to the system as possible while en route.

This radar uses POP technology, so it will not set off radar detectors, thus catching more speeders. Its signal processing is also digital, which makes it much more reliable and jammer-proof.

Applied Concepts

www.stalkerradar.com

The Stalker DSR (direction sensing radar) from Applied Concepts can also detect traffic direction, ignoring other, closer vehicles that are going in the opposite direction from the target traffic. In addition, the officer will not need to identify if vehicles are moving faster or slower than his own vehicle, if moving.

A Vehicle Speed Sensor is available, which uses perfect patrol speed constantly without having to be switched from moving and stationary modes. The display identifies both the fastest and the strongest targets, and a voice verification system acknowledges locked targets.

The system works with video and computers to record and track traffic and speeding patterns. This information can help any department better patrol its streets.

http://www.iacp.org/profassist/radarcpl.doc


Published in Law and Order, Feb 2004

Rating : Not Yet Rated


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Related Companies

Applied ConceptsKustom Signals Inc.MPH Industries
 

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Applied Concepts Stalker 2XKustom Signal EagleStopwatch ModeVideo Camera InterfaceWireless Remote
 

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