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THE CONVERSATION: The Fast and the uh-oh

NRPS Constable Shane Schedler takes aim at speeders last week in Fonthill. VOICE PHOTO

A Niagara Regional Police constable gives us a quick look at nabbing speeders on the edge of Fonthill

BY DAVE BURKET
The VOICE

Driving east last week on Highway 20 into Fonthill, I’d passed by E.L. Crossley High School and then through the intersection at Effingham when I noticed some westbound drivers flashing their headlights. Sure enough, at the crest of the hill near Lookout Street I could just barely make out a cop standing in the shoulder, pointing his speed-measuring gun toward us wanna-be road-racers barreling toward him.

Is there any stretch of Highway 20 where the speed limit is more often ignored? I pulled over to see how the day’s haul of citations was going and found a constable happy to talk shop.

Shane Schedler, 46, has been in the Niagara Regional Police Service for nearly a decade, first working as a beat cop in St. Catherines, then working with the Special Enforcement Unit since 2013. Consisting of 20 constables and four sergeants, the SEU’s mandate is to combine traffic enforcement and education across Niagara. Their aim is to persuade us to stop behaving badly behind the wheel—no small task these days considering the number of distracted drivers doing their best to mow us down while texting.

I parked behind Schedler’s patrol car on Timmsdale Crescent and scurried to get to him before he nabbed someone. That race was lost as he flagged down an old Honda Accord. Both car and driver had seen better days. Once Schedler had written the citation and sent the glum looking perp on his way, we stood watching traffic fly by as we talked speed enforcement. Some of the conversation has been condensed for clarity.

[BURKET] I don’t often see officers here myself, but I do see the press releases on the number of citations issued at this intersection.

[SCHEDLER] This spot was brought to my attention years ago when I got into the traffic unit just by complaints and starting to drive around the area. I’d see an accident over there. I’d see an accident down there. People are coming [east] into town so they’re not used to slowing down, even though it starts way back up the hill there.

From 80 to 70 to 50.

Exactly. And that’s what I explain to them. In front of the high school it drops, and then when it goes to one lane it drops again. It was a little bit more precarious here before the construction because there was no sidewalk on this side. It was a little dangerous through here—there’s a lot of bicycle and a lot of foot traffic, so that’s kind of why I picked this spot. I’m using LIDAR. It’s a little bit different than radar and it works well in this situation. I can safely pull people in here, not be in the car.

It sounds like you have a some discretion as to where you decide to go on a given shift.

Somewhat. I have a sergeant and we have another level above that, just like any workplace. There are days when we come in and it’s set that we’re going to do this or that. Crosswalk enforcement during back-to-school, or school bus enforcement is a big one in the fall. It seems to be an issue with people not stopping for buses all around the region. It could be a stop sign in an area. Could be anything. Complaints go through our website, or Twitter, or Facebook, or the traffic hotline, and we get an email. Or somebody on regular patrol might see an area or get a complaint from someone and they can add it in the system, so we get advised of all those.

Have you personally done any stunting write-ups here?

Yeah, I have. I would just be guessing, but in all the time I’ve been here, I would say probably two or three. Not as many as you would think, but we get a lot that are close. [Note: “Stunting” consists, among other things, of driving 50/kph or higher over the posted limit, which can result in the immediate suspension of driving privileges, seizure of the vehicle, and a $10,000 fine.] You get more suspended drivers. You stop them for speeding and you discover they’re also suspended. There’s been 10 to 20 of those here [since 2013].

How fast was the Accord going?

Seventy-five.

Where does that rank—what’s the average speed that you’re seeing on the LIDAR?

Well, so far today I’ve only been here for two. The first one was doing 82 and that guy was 75. So it can range. We have operations that are sometime zero tolerance, so if you’re speeding you’re stopped. Back-to-school is a good example of that. It wouldn’t matter, if you’re in a 40 zone. There’s a little bit more discretion here. I’m trying to educate people on the speed limit, and I know it’s new pavement. You can get anything up to 94 or 95. And that’s moving.

How long are you normally parked here, ballpark average.

Three or four hours.

And in that three or four hours, how many cars would you pull over?

It depends. Sometimes there’s enough people going too fast that you can have three guys here and I can call someone with a Pelham car and say, “Hey, if you want to come by, I’m doing this here today.” I have the stats on my phone. Here…in May of 2013 was the first time I came here. Didn’t get too many that time, six. Then I was here again the next month and I got 16. And again, the next month we got 13. And then again in another month, we got 37. I’m a little bit late today just because we were doing something else.

It seems to me in this stretch all you have to do is walk out there and point that thing and you’re going to get somebody, no matter what. You don’t even have to wait that long. I was surprised that I was able to park and get my camera out and walk over as far as I did before you got one. It’s just constant here.

And that’s part of why we’re here. I mean, I was talking to somebody who walked by one time last year and they’re like, “Thank goodness you’re here. My dog was killed out here because someone was flying by.” And another person would stop and say, “I can never get out of here because you go to turn and you’re taking your life into your hand because someone’s going to crash into you.”

A LIDAR gun. VOICE PHOTO

That’s why I asked about the stunting. Because, I mean, easily, they can be doing 100, 110.

Anything over 102 is generally where we’ll kick in the stunting, just because there’s an allowance of one or two kilometers an hour. I’ve been here all times. Even night time sometimes and stay till midnight, or whatever time I can. And it doesn’t matter the time of day.

This is a LIDAR gun.

Yeah. It’s “light detection and ranging.” Let’s say a regular radar goes out like a traffic cone shape, the waves. So, at 1,000 meters, it’s going to be a certain width, which is going to be about 20% of the distance. LIDAR will be 3 meters at 1,000 meters.

Wow.

So at 250 meters, it’s going to be the size of a license plate. So, basically, just look through here. You pull the trigger and it turns it on. And you aim at a particular spot on the vehicle, like the plate or light or something that’s going to reflect light. And it’ll bounce back right away and it starts to give you a speed. And then just lock it in. Like that truck is doing 30. So the advantage of a LIDAR over a radar is that if I was here with a radar, I would have to kind of determine what car—

Which vehicle it was.

Yeah. I would be able to do that 99% of the time. But again, in court, this is a known device and I can say, “Well, I had the dot on that car.” Because I’ve tested it, I know the dot is on whatever I’m aiming it at so I know it was that car that was going that speed.

The court relies on your testimony.

In that case, yes, for the speed. That’s always one of the debates in court anyway, right, were they actually speeding or not? I mean, they have a kind of newer—an option that I was explaining to that gentleman that I stopped, an early-resolution option, which lets them go have a meeting with the Crown, just to get an understanding of where they’re at. Is the Crown going to be willing to negotiate at all, based on the driver’s record and things like that.

I think I should let you get back to work. Thanks for your time.

You’re welcome.

As Schedler demonstrated the LIDAR gun, we stood just off the shoulder of Highway 20, hidden from view as traffic approached the crest of the hill. Vehicle after vehicle flew up then suddenly slowed as drivers spotted Schedler in his bright safety vest. After I turned off the audio recorder I suggested that maybe 50 was too slow for this section of road, that drivers bridled what seemed to be an arbitrarily low limit. Schedler countered that pedestrians were common, especially during the school year, and even with the new sidewalk there was plenty of potential for an accident. I asked him how fast someone had to be going to be pulled over. It’s a lower number than you might think, and one that I’ll be keeping in mind from now on. By the time I’d walked the 40 feet back to my car, he’d waved over yet another lead-foot.

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