- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

As police departments around the country deploy increasingly sophisticated traffic-enforcement tools — like the District's red-light and photo radar cameras — motorists are fighting back with high-tech gadgets of their own, from powerful radar and laser detectors to plastic shields that obscure photos of license plates.
"It's been sort of a cat-and-mouse game," said Bruce Brandon, advertising manager for Beltronics, a Canadian company that manufactures radar and laser detectors. "Pretty much since the mid-1980s, it has been a game of one-upmanship."
Beltronics and other companies manufacturing similar products go to great lengths in their advertisements to avoid the appearance of condoning traffic violations. Still, many states have banned devices designed to thwart police.
Radar and laser detectors are illegal in both the District and in Virginia. Maryland is one of the few states that has not taken action to prohibit such devices.
All three jurisdictions outlaw license plate shields that deflect the flash from a red-light camera or block a laser that tracks a driver's speed.
Legal or illegal, the gadgets have gained new popularity among area drivers as police, especially in the District, step up red-light and speed-limit enforcement with electronic cameras.
Since 1999, the District has pocketed more than $12 million in fines from 230,000 violations detected by 39 red-light cameras. The city expects to dash off 80,000 speeding tickets a month using its new photo radar cameras, which have been in effect since Monday.
During a trial period last month, more than 18,000 written warnings were issued to speeders. All of the violations originated from primarily one Ford Crown Victoria that patrolled some of the 60 enforcement zones designated by police. The deployment uses five such vehicles and one fixed camera.
Mr. Brandon said his Toronto-based company does not market the radar and laser detecting mechanism as "a speeding device." He calls it a "travel companion."
Mr. Brandon said his company works hard to ensure its products — which sell for up to $300 — can effectively counteract law enforcement's technology.
The advancements of radar and laser technology make it more challenging for Beltronics and other companies to keep up with police, he said.
Rocky Mountain Radar claims its Phantom II laser and radar detector can detect the kinds of photo radar cameras the District uses.
Rocky Mountain Radar did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Stephane Grabina, the manager of Auto Sound Systems of Rockville, said any good radar detector should pick up a photo radar camera in the area. Mr. Grabina's shop installs high-end radar and laser detectors that cost upward of $1,500. He said the advances in law enforcement tools and techniques have created an ever-evolving market for new products.
"The consumer of technology is always trying to be one step ahead of the police," Mr. Grabina said.
D.C. police spokesman Kevin P. Morison said tests by Lockheed Martin IMS, the company that operates both the red-light and photo radar cameras, indicate the detectors do not help drivers avoid citations.
"Traditional radar detectors would be useless with our new technology," Mr. Morison said.
Mark Maddox, a spokesman for Lockheed, explained that radar and laser detectors pick up stray microwave beams emitted from traditional radar guns. The photo radar cameras, he said, "don't send out any stray beams until you are locked in."
"It's like stepping into a shower," Mr. Maddox said.
Dozens of companies use the Internet to sell products like "Laser Shield" or "The Overhead Protector" that, according to an advertisement, use "a passive state-of-the art bending lens" that shoots back a bright light when a red-light camera flashes or "diffuses" an incoming laser beam.
Mr. Morison said the shields are a waste of money and have been shown to provide even more clarity to the photo of a vehicle's license plate.
"My advice to people who are thinking about investing in these devices is to save your money, slow down, don't run red lights, and you'll live to spend that extra money in your pocket," Mr. Morison said.
The reflectors do not work well either, Mr. Maddox said, because they are designed to thwart cameras with a direct shot at the license plate. The District's cameras, he said, take pictures from an angle.
Although Maryland permits radar and laser detectors, Maryland State Police Trooper Cynthia Brown said, the devices do not make much of a difference to police.
Trooper Brown said police can pace cars and employ tag teams, in which an officer in a decoy vehicle radios a partner down the road to catch a violator.
"Your radar detector is not going to save you from everything, because you are probably following too closely or weaving in and out of lanes," Trooper Brown said.
Virginia State Police Sgt. Robert Evans, who teaches radar operations in Richmond, said his troopers are only trying to enforce the law.
"The main thing we are concerned with here is public safety, we don't look at it as a game," Sgt. Evans said.

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