Sheriffs must ensure equipment works

Before an Alberta Sheriff even sets tire on the road he must ensure equipment is calibrated

Const. Doug Wareham arrests a man after finding marijuana in his vehicle May 17.

Const. Doug Wareham arrests a man after finding marijuana in his vehicle May 17.

Before an Alberta Sheriff even sets tire on the road he must ensure equipment is calibrated, otherwise tickets written during a shift won’t hold up in court.

Vehicles have front and rear radar detectors and Sheriff John Walker also makes use of his handheld laser, which can tell the speed of a vehicle accurately from 400 metres away. However, equipment must be calibrated before and after a shift. If calibration tests fail then all tickets Walker writes are invalid, which is one of the reason he documents everything. “There’s a lot to prove with a speeding charge.”

Walker uses tuning forks on radar equipment, which vibrate at a calibrated frequency; those tuning forks have a serial number and are also tested regularly.

Computers, radios, lasers and radars are among the many tools available to officers. These help the traffic unit while on the highway but there are many times when Walker must use his judgment during a stop.

Some motorists who were stopped were quick to admit their error and Walker feels if they are willing to work with him education becomes easier.

Despite the need for speed at |certain times Walker generally travels at approximately 120 km/h. “I know at 120 (km/h) I can react,” he said.

The other reason is some drivers do not know how fast other vehicles are coming up behind them and he does not see the need to risk his life or that of others’ lives to stop a speeder at 130 km/h.

Tickets are a normal part of Walker’s job and during his 10-hour shift on the Friday of the May long weekend he wrote several speeding tickets.

The biggest was for $325. A 20-year-old man from Edmonton was travelling at 157 km/h on Highway 2. He was relatively lucky, another four km/h over and the man would have had to face a mandatory court appearance and his car would have been impounded.

A 54-year old woman had a hefty ticket as well, she was driving at 140 km/h and received a bill for $307.

Drivers in the daytime tend to differ from those at night, explained Walker. Usually families are on the road during daylight hours and at night a younger crowd is driving. There is some uncertainty for Walker during nighttime as he cannot see inside a vehicle.

“It’s hard to see the number of people in a vehicle. Just the dark alone, it works for you and against you,” he explained. “When a vehicle goes by it’s just a set of headlights.”

He is more alert during these times because people may not be paying as much attention to the road. Walker always uses the passenger’s side of the vehicle when doing a traffic stop just to ensure personal safety. Rather than talk to a person close to traffic on a fast moving highway, Walker errs on the side of caution.

Despite the number of tickets issued, Walker came across two traffic stops where he believed marijuana was emanating from a vehicle. As a sheriff, Walker is governed by provincial requirements to handle highway safety and because the two RCMP officers assigned to the highway patrol were tied up with other calls, he was unable to conduct further investigations.

“We’re supposed to call the Mounties all the time with Criminal Code stuff but we can’t just bog them down,” he explained.

Walker wasn’t sure how to best manage this issue because there is already quite a bit of money and resources spent on the highway. As soon as someone is found to be impaired or suspected of other Criminal Code issues, then resources are also being used.

His 10-hour shift was relatively calm however with only speeding tickets issued. Walker was able to assist his partner, Const. Doug Wareham, with an arrest of two men who had marijuana in their possession and who were smoking in the vehicle.