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Gustine Police Corporal Francisco Martinez demonstrates use of the department’s new Lidar equipment being used for speed enforcement.

GUSTINE - Local police officers have a new tool at their disposal to enforce speed laws.

Police Chief Ruben Chavez recently said that two grant-funded Lidar units - which are essentially a laser based tool to calculate vehicle speeds - have been put into service.

Five officers have completed the required training to utilize the devices, he said.

Chavez explained that the Lidar units are more precise than standard radar.

“It is pretty much like a camera that you aim at a car. You can put the dot on the vehicle that you think is traveling at a higher rate of speed,” Chavez explained, adding that lidar also allows officers to more readily pick a vehicle out of a stream of traffic. “With the radar, you have to articulate which car is going the fastest. This is more precise.”

The Lidar units can also pick up and calculate vehicle speeds at a greater distance, he noted.

“You can (monitor) a car before the driver even notices that an officer is parked there,” Chavez told Mattos Newspapers.

He said that the Lidar units can be used on residential streets and school zones, where state law establishes speed limits without requirements for a speed survey, but that the emphasis will be on the Highway 33/140 corridor from the Sullivan Road intersection through town and out to the airport.

“There are a couple of streets that we get a lot of complaints on, such as North Avenue, but most of the time we will be enforcing along the highway corridor,” the chief stated. “The areas I see a lot of people going faster than they should are coming in around the curve at Schmidt Park, and also on Highway 140 near the airport.”

Both of those locations, Chavez added, have been the site of multiple accidents.

Chavez said officers will be focusing on more flagrant violations, and always have the discretion to issue a warning rather than a citation.

He said the Lidar units will be regularly used by patrol officers, and that grant funds will allow some overtime patrols by officers dedicated solely to traffic enforcement.

“The entire goal is to make sure that our community is driving at a safe speed,” Chavez commented. “Speed seems to be a predominant factor in collisions that cause damage, injury and death.”

He said the Lidar units have been well-received by officers.

“Being a smaller department and not having a lot of opportunity for special programs, when we can offer something like this I think that they embrace it,” he commented. “It allows them to be more efficient in their duties. They are not looking forward to having to write somebody a ticket, but this is something that they can put in their tool box.”