McKinney police knew of patrol car radar anomalies, kept giving tickets

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by JOBIN PANICKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @jobinpnews

WFAA

Posted on April 25, 2014 at 10:19 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 25 at 11:07 PM

McKINNEY -- The McKinney Police Department is checking out its entire vehicle fleet after a former officer and News 8 started asking questions about erroneous readings from its car-mounted Stalker radars.

“I was told, ‘Let’s not make any noise about this, we’ll get it fixed at some point,’” said Aaron Smith, a former fleet operations manager for the McKinney police.

Radars have been used for years and it was officer Aaron Smith’s job to keep those radars in check at the department. Smith said he started to see some irregularities in radar readings after he drove the patrol units starting in June of 2013.

“I started noticing these anomalies where target speeds would be completely out of the norm,” Smith said. He noticed that the radars would show a target driver going 65 miles per hour, when they were going closer to 45 miles per hour.

McKinney Assistant Police Chief Joe Ellenburg is aware of Smith’s concerns and said it was a concern that was addressed internally.

“He brought that to the attention of his supervisor, and his supervisor said, 'Let’s go forth and fix it,'” Ellenburg said.

And in public records obtained by News 8, there are September e-mails from Smith’s supervisor writing, “Let’s get this corrected after October.” But Smith said nothing happened.

He told News 8 that at least 14 cars failed his audit and had Stalker radars that gave false speed readings. He listed the failed units in an e-mail to a supervisor. Smith said the “erroneous readings” happened only while the patrol cars were on the move and in the older model Crown Victorias.

He said the cars did not have what’s called a VSS, or vehicle speed sensor, cable.

“The cable wasn’t even attached and wasn’t even there on vehicles,” Smith said. “[The cars] were never taken out of service."

McKinney police say these anomalies are rare, but also well-known in the radar industry. Ellenburg said his officers have been trained to identify when these anomalies come up while on patrol and that his officers are trained to “visualize” a driver’s speed.

“If that visual observation does not match what that radar is saying, then we stop there,” Assistant Chief Ellenburg said.

There were 4,409 speeding tickets handed out in McKinney by officers in 2013. Smith said this puts a dark cloud over all those tickets. “Didn’t know if you wanted to forward this information to the municipal court,” Smith wrote in one e-mail to a supervisor.

“There is a great possibility that you could get an erroneous reading, which could lead to you writing a ticket to someone that may not have deserved it,” Smith said.

Smith said he medically retired from the department on December 31, 2013. But he admitted he was also growing more and more frustrated with the department over the handling of the radars.

News 8 reached out to the radar maker, Applied Concepts Incorporated, but representatives declined to comment.

“I do not feel the cable is a necessity and I have the utmost confidence in the integrity of our officers in their unwillingness to ever write an inaccurate ticket,” Ellenburg said.

Smith argues the cable reduces the anomalies. In a recent January e-mail from the radar maker to the department, after going through all possible anomaly scenarios, it reads “using the CAN/VSS power cable will eliminate or greatly reduce these situations.”

Ellenburg said McKinney police did not make the decision not to use the cable.

News 8 learned that the Stalker radars came with VSS cables. Ellenburg said it is possibly the installer’s decision not to use the cables. It's unclear what became of the cables that came with the units.

All of their newly-purchased vehicles (the Chevy Tahoes) have been fitted with the correct cables.

After Aaron Smith came forward with his concerns and News 8 followed up, McKinney Police decided to check their entire fleet for the cables.

Four employees from the police department have been trained on installing the cables to the existing vehicles that do not have them. Ellenburg told News 8 the cost of purchasing replacement VSS cables is $3,700, and said it’a small price to pay "to give people peace of mind."

E-mail jpanicker@wfaa.com

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