DeSoto County Board of Supervisors is lending its support to a bill in the Mississippi legislature that would allow the sheriff to use radar to record speeding on county roads in a limited capacity.
The board voted unanimously this week to support SB 2387 sponsored by Sen. Michael McLendon (R-1st District). The bill would only apply to the sheriff and deputies in counties with a population of 140,000 or more and can only be used on roads and highways within the county and those lying outside the limits of any incorporated municipality and not on the interstate.
“The bill that we have done is not about revenue,” McLendon told the board. “It’s strictly about safety. It’s about saving lives. A lot of people aren’t aware that the sheriff doesn’t have all of the tools at his disposal to perform his duties — one of those being radar.”
Radar has been a controversial topic for years in the legislature. Currently, the only state law enforcement agency allowed to use radar on public roads is the Mississippi Highway Patrol and cities with populations of more than 15,000, who can use radar to enforce speed limits on federal highways within their boundaries.
McLendon said past efforts to allow sheriffs to be able to use radar on roads and highways inside the county and outside the city limits have failed, mostly out of concerns that they could be used to set up speed traps.
“Some of those counties... I can see how radar could possibly be misused,” McLendon said. “There are some sheriff departments out there they may feel are not as trustworthy as we have here.”
McLendon said the bill would only allow for two radars to be purchased and used. DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department has 144 patrol cars, so not all calls would be equipped with radar.
“We’re not asking for 144 radar guns,” McLendon said. “We are asking for a maximum of two, which means you could have one on the east side and one on the west side.”
But even having just two cars equipped with radar will still be a deterrent and save lives, he said.
“The caveat is, how do you know which car has the radar gun?” McLendon said. “So if you see a county car, you’re going to slow down.”
The bill also has other safeguards in it that would prevent the sheriff department from using radar for a speed trap. Deputies would be prohibited from using radar within 500 feet of a municipality, 500 yards of a county line or within 500 yards of a speed limit change.
“So we are not setting up speed traps,” McLendon said.
Also, any money collected from citations would be directed to school districts where the violation occurred to be used for classroom purposes.
Supervisor Lee Caldwell said she likes the idea that the money will go to the school district and could be used to help fund drivers education classes.
DeSoto County schools have offered drivers ed classes, but very few students actually sign up, she said.
“It’s available in all our high schools, but a very small percentage were able to take it just because we didn’t have the teacher units to cover it,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said the bill would be a win-win for the county and students.
“When kids take drivers ed, I think it makes them more responsible,” Caldwell said. “It also goes down on their insurance and the parents that are paying it. And it makes those students more aware of the dangers of driving vicariously and speeding. I think it’s a great idea.”
McLendon acknowledged that the bill faces an uphill battle. It will need to be advanced out of the Senate County Affairs Committee first before heading to the Senate. However, he added that Senator Chad McMahan (R-6th District), who chairs the County Affairs Committee, has assured him that if the DeSoto Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Bill Rasco passes a resolution in support of the bill, that he will bring it out of committee for DeSoto County.
“I have reservations about whether that bill is going to come out (of committee),” McLendon said. “But he said ‘yes, absolutely. I would love to see that come out of my committee — strictly for DeSoto County.’ This is an absolute no-brainer for counties of 140,000 to help save lives. We would be the beacon , basically the starting point for how it works.”
Rasco said he has spoken to other sheriffs in the state who are for the bill, as well as DeSoto County School District Superintendent Cory Uselton.
“I talked to other sheriffs about the money going strictly to drivers ed in all the high schools in the county, and Superintendent Uselton gave me a call and requested that it go to drivers ed,” Rasco said. “I don’t think there is going to be a whole lot of money generated through this. It’s not about the money. It’s about awareness and letting people know we do have radar and can write a ticket.”
McLendon said he doesn’t want to see any more roadside crosses where someone lost their lives due to a crash on a twisty county road.
“This is not about anything other than saving lives,” McLendon said. “I don’t know how many over the last 10 years. But you can go from Lake Cormorant, Eudora, to Cockrum to Center Hill, and I don’t know how many crosses are on there.”