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Back to Archives | Back to April 2008 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

ETATS: Ensuring Quality Technology in Traffic Law Enforcement

By Joel Bolton, Project Manager, Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovation, Natchitoches, Louisiana

odern patrol officers have a wide array of tools available to work more efficiently and effectively. Today’s technology provides agencies with a range of capabilities from computerized dispatch and reporting functions to video functionality that permits officers to see in the dark with night vision equipment or to view remote surveillance cameras.

As technology becomes more widely accepted and often necessary for law enforcement purposes, it is increasingly important that sound purchasing decisions are made by agency administrators. Selecting the wrong product from the wrong vendor has been an embarrassing and costly mistake for many police managers. These errant decisions have been made frequently without sufficient research, relying on the statements and promises of a talented salesperson. Sometimes all that is needed is a little good guidance.

Mission of ETATS

In the area of traffic enforcement technology, good guidance is available thanks to a partnership between the IACP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The working group resulting from this partnership is called the Enforcement Technologies Advisory Technical Subcommittee (ETATS).

Under the auspices of the IACP Highway Safety Committee, a 30-member group chaired by Assistant Commissioner Earl M. Sweeney of the New Hampshire Department of Safety, ETATS is one of two standing technical subcommittees that work in different areas to develop and provide professional standards. The second is the Technical Advisory Panel to the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (also known as the Drug Recognition Expert [DRE] Program), which deals with standards for the DRE Program and for standardized field sobriety testing.

ETATS focuses on radar and lidar (that is, laser) speed-measuring devices as well as other emerging traffic enforcement technologies. The work of this subcommittee is important to anyone making purchasing decisions, maintaining equipment, or defending use of technology in courts of law or public opinion.

ETATS works with equipment manufacturers, equipment users, technical specialists, and independent laboratories to ensure that the devices sold to law enforcement agencies provide accurate and reliable service. Finding devices that meet the standards for law enforcement use is as simple as consulting the IACP’s Conforming Product List (CPL). The work of the subcommittee, however, goes far beyond simply publishing and updating this list.

Product Testing

With guidance and direction from ETATS, the IACP has established laboratories that provide CPL testing, critical performance testing, and recertification of speed-measuring devices for agencies.

To be included on the CPL, manufacturers voluntarily submit units to be tested at IACP laboratories, where the devices are checked thoroughly to ensure that they meet or exceed the model minimum performance specifications. The specifications and testing procedures help ensure the confidence of officers, law enforcement administrators, courts, and the public in the accuracy of the equipment being used to enforce traffic laws.

Once a new model has earned a place on the CPL, manufacturers are then required to submit a set number of units to the laboratory for critical performance testing before the units are delivered to customers to be placed in service. In addition, for each model to maintain its spot on the CPL, six units are tested each year to verify compliance with the standards.

When purchasing new speed measurement equipment, agencies should ensure that the device complies with minimum specifications and that the product is on the CPL. Many states and localities make these requirements a standard part of their bidding/purchasing requirements, mentioning specifically the IACP CPL. Minimum performance specifications as well as the CPLs for down-the-road radar, across-the-road radar, and lidar are available on the Web at the IACP Technology Clearinghouse Web site.1

The ETATS program also has a component that allows agencies to have their existing radar/lidar inventory recertified through the IACP laboratories at a minimal cost. Just as purchasing a certified unit is crucial to the integrity of a speed enforcement program, proper maintenance and recertification is required to preserve the confidence of the courts and public. Recertification every two to three years is recommended for each device or after repairs have been made
to a unit.

Keeping Up with Emerging Technology

ETATS continues to monitor and assess emerging technology that has the potential to assist agencies with achieving their traffic safety goals of reducing crashes and saving lives. One currently hot topic is the use of automated enforcement technology. More than 20 years after its introduction, acceptance and use of photo radar and red light cameras are on the rise across the United States.

As more agencies consider implementing automated enforcement technology to work more effectively, ETATS has taken the lead in providing guidance on the technology’s basic system requirements. Recently published and available are the minimum performance specifications for red light camera systems. This document, which provides standards and testing criteria that will help agencies make what are often difficult purchasing decisions, is available on the IACP Web site.2

Agency leaders are encouraged to make use of the tools that ETATS members have worked so hard to provide for them. Only by purchasing devices that meet or exceed published specifications and ensuring that operators are properly trained will law enforcement agencies continue to enjoy the acceptance of their technology by courts, the public, and their own officers. Therefore, ETATS will continue the challenging work of evaluating new and emerging technology to help save lives by improving traffic safety enforcement. ■

1“Radar/Lidar Testing and Certification Information,” IACP Technology Clearinghouse, (accessed March 3, 2008).
2International Association of Chiefs of Police, Performance Specifications: Red Light Camera System Module, vol. 1, November 29, 2007, (accessed March 3, 2008).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 4, April 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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