Citizens Take Control of Radar Patrol

Speeding cars have become so perilous one Naperville, Illinois neighborhood that the police are loaning radar guns to citizens in a bid to try to make neighborhood roads safer. Drive over the speed limit and a neighbor clocking the speed can report you.

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Some private citizens have been gathering their own data about traffic on the roadways. In Naperville, Illinois, the police are among a number of departments nationwide that loan out radar guns to citizens to try to make neighborhoods safer.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: I'm standing at the corner of Lawrence(ph) Drive in Keith Avenue in a subdivision of Naperville. And that's where Jeff Meyeri(ph) is crouched low behind the bush in his front yard, gray radar gun in his hand, tracking the speed of the vehicles coming down the school.

Mr. JEFF MEYERI: (Unintelligible) this one that's 37, 38.

CORLEY: The speed limit is 25, but Lawrence Drive, a main street in the subdivision, is big and wide.

Mr. MEYERI: That's the problem.

CORLEY: Meyeri knows all about speed. An amateur racecar driver, he admits to his shares of speeding tickets. And then, there is that Porsche in his garage. Even so, Meyeri says with a school nearby and a pool across the street, drivers should obey the 25 mile-per-hour speed limit.

Mr. MEYERI: Now, we can give some leeway for somebody going a few miles an hour over. A lot of what you see here is, you know, 15 over, 20 over. In some cases, 50 much, there's too many kids around.

CORLEY: So it's tracking by radar while Meyeri's partner in this effort, Tanya Chavez(ph) stands by with a clip board.

Ms. TANYA CHAVEZ: I'm going to try to write down the license plates and the speed that they're going and what time of day it is and what state their license plates are from.

CORLEY: The speed control effort is called Friendly Streets. It includes the regular traffic signs about speed limits and children in the area. Sometimes, portable radar screens which post the speed of an approaching vehicle are set up.

Sergeant Lee Martin, the head of the Naperville Traffic Unit, says since the division has only nine dedicated officers, the citizen radar patrols are useful.

Sergeant LEE MARTIN (Naperville Traffic Unit): They have absolutely no power as far as enforcing the law. We use them strictly as an analytical tool and an information gathering source. But it allows the citizens, you know, to determine whether or not there actually is a problem on their street.

CORLEY: And it hopes police decide whether to patrol particular neighborhoods. The speeding motorists get a warning by postcard.

Not everybody likes the idea of citizen radar patrols. Debbie Walsh(ph) lives in the same neighborhood as Jeff Meyeri.

Ms. DEBBIE WALSH: Yeah, it's a little weird. You know, we have an excellent police force here in Naperville and I think they can do the job.

CORLEY: About a block away, Connie Simons(ph) is mowing her lawn. She says rarely a day goes by when a motorist doesn't speak. She's even seen a motorist hit but not injure a child on a bicycle, but she, too, has problems with the volunteer radar effort.

Ms. CONNIE SIMONS: This is going to set neighbors against neighbors if someone would sit here with a gun and then somebody's got arrested. I thought - I think it will cause a lot of animosity.

CORLEY: But no ticket comes from the citizen radar effort, just a warning, says Bob Fisher who heads a homeowners' group in Naperville that does motorist radar checks about once a year.

Mr. BOB FISHER: We're not vigilantes. We want people to act respectfully in our neighborhood and drive respectfully, recognize there's kids playing, there's kids walking, there's kids riding school buses and please drive the speed limit. It's there for a reason.

CORLEY: And that's exactly what Jeff Meyeri and Tanya Chavez believe as they sit in a car, radar gun in hand, checking how motors drive on another street.

Mr. MEYERI: Well, you know, 40, 41, 42.

CORLEY: Meyeri and Chavez will monitor motorists for the next few weeks before giving the radar gun back to their local police.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News.

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