Sgt. Wesley J. Picha stood along Rock Spring Road in Bel Air holding the Harford Sheriff's Office's newest weapon to catch speeding motorists: a laser speed gun.
As Picha peered through the gun's scope Wednesday, a narrow infrared beam tracked vehicles traveling into town on the 40-mph roadway. With the press of a button, the speeds of the vehicles were immediately displayed. Police didn't pull anyone over for a citation, but they plan to use the high-tech piece of equipment for just that.
For the Sheriff's Department, the laser speed gun offers deputies the latest technology providing quick and accurate readings to net speeders.
The 4-pound, $3,700 unit was donated on Wednesday to the Sheriff's Department by the GEICO Insurance Co. "We must continue to target speeding violators," Sheriff Robert Comes said. "The gun will allow deputies to detect and arrest more violators."
The sheriff's office is the first police agency in the Baltimore area to obtain the laser speed gun from GEICO, although state and regional police agencies in Prince George's and Montgomery counties have obtained units through the company.
David Schindler, regional vice president of GEICO, said the company expects to donate at least four more laser units to Maryland police departments this year.
The company is donating the laser guns in its effort to reduce traffic accidents, Schindler said. He estimates that as many as 141 people a day nationwide are killed in traffic accidents.
Picha demonstrated the advantages of the laser gun, which has an invisible beam that can pinpoint speeds of vehicles up to 2,000 feet away in heavy traffic but can't be picked up by radar detectors.
Picha said the department expects to use the laser gun throughout the county, focusing on roads where accidents occur frequently and where speeding has been a constant complaint by residents and motorists.
The sergeant said the department will most likely announce what roads will be patrolled by the laser gun once police are trained to use the device.
"We're trying to make it more safe for motorists," Picha said.
The laser gun is to be in full use within two months, after about eight deputies complete 40 hours of training to become certified operating the laser, Picha said.
Laser speed guns, most accurate on straight roads, can be operated by officers standing along roadways or sitting in cruisers, the sergeant said. They cannot be operated from a moving vehicle.
The unit is not expected to replace the commonly used radar gun because of the laser gun's high cost and the county's tight financial situation, Picha said. Laser units cost about twice as much as radar guns.
The LTI 20-20, made by Laser Technology Inc. of Englewood, Colo., is accurate within 1 mile for speed and within 6 inches for distance, the manufacturer claims.
The gun will also help the department with accident investigations and drug-interdiction programs, Picha said.
In accident investigations, deputies will be able to use the gun to measure the distance and speed of vehicles that have gone off the road, easing an often cumbersome task, the sergeant said.
Investigators can use the unit to measure the length of tractor-trailers that may contain "false backs" sometimes used to transport illegal cargo and drugs, Picha said.
The laser gun is the second piece of new technology donated to the department's new traffic division, which formed last year. Mothers Against Drunk Driving provided the department with a $2,200 video camera to record traffic stops last fall.