DeSoto County is pushing again to allow sheriff’s deputies to use radar speed detection devices.
State Sen. Michael McLendon (R-Hernando) has proposed a bill that would allow sheriff’s departments in counties with 140,000 or more residents to use radar speed detection in the county.
Mississippi is one of the few states in the country to ban its county’s sheriff’s deputies from monitoring traffic speeds. The only other state to have this same law is Pennsylvania, but Chief Deputy Justin Smith said the situation there was different from DeSoto’s.
“Pennsylvania sheriffs don’t have the same enforcement responsibilities that we do,” Smith said. “So they don’t run traffic control or speed cameras there, they run the county buildings and the jail and things of that nature, it’s not the same type of work as here. We We’re the unincorporated area police of the county and up there they have the state police to run the speed cameras.”
As it stands, the only law enforcement agency authorized to use radar on public roads or highways is the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
“They use speed cameras on the state highways and it’s no secret that MHP doesn’t have the manpower or the revenue to monitor all of the county roads that we are responsible for looking after,” Smith said. “And they’re doing a good job on the freeways, they’re very visible on our freeways and I think they’re doing a good job of maintaining reasonable speeds on the freeways, but it would be unrealistic for us to expect that they come out on our roads and run a radar.
DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco has been in office since 2008 and tries to pass radar gun legislation every year. So far, it hasn’t been widely adopted, Smith said, due to fears that law enforcement would use speed cameras to install speed cameras to make more money for the department.
“We have several fatal crashes with speed as a contributing factor every year, obviously we have a lot of non-fatal crashes with speed as a contributing factor in unincorporated areas,” Smith said. “For us, it’s a legitimate public safety issue and not a revenue issue. The county is strong, financially. It’s not something to increase our coffers.”
But the need is there, Smith said, especially as the county continues to get bigger and bigger.
“We’re one of the largest counties in the state, top five. We’ve got over 180,000 people here. In unincorporated areas alone, we’re allowed 40,000 people, so that’s a need,” Smith said. “We get complaints every week from people asking us to slow down speeding in the neighborhood and right now our only method of doing that is visibility and it doesn’t have the teeth like a really would. law enforcement action.”
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McLendon introduced a similar bill in the 2021 legislative session. This bill stipulated that funds received in speeding fines under the measure would not have gone to sheriff’s departments – they would have rather been assigned for educational purposes in the county where the offense occurred, such as driving lessons at local high schools. . Because last year’s attempt failed, it will be up to legislatures this year to decide how the money collected from traffic tickets is used.
“What we’ve asked for, because with the school thing, obviously we haven’t been successful with that, so what we’ve asked for is to let the legislatures be creative with that and to not a source of revenue, we want it to be a legitimate public safety issue,” Smith said.
Smith hopes this will be the year the bill finally passes, but admits that DeSoto County being so much larger than most counties in Mississippi could play against them.
“We hope every year. Every legislative session we are going to fight for this and we are going to do our best. And hopefully at some point it will take hold, but unfortunately we being in one of the most big counties, we’re a minority here,” Smith said. “Most counties in the state are rural, sparsely populated, and running a radar for a sheriff in a county that may have a thousand people in unincorporated areas is simply not a priority. We’re just dealing with different quality of life issues than most of Mississippi is.”
Gina Butkovich covers DeSoto County, storytelling and general news. She can be reached at 901-232-6714.