D.G Stalls II, Newport News police officer had the habit of keeping his radar gun on his lap when he was not using it, while riding his black Harley-Davidson. However, recently there has been a growing concern among Stalls and other law enforcement officers about how radar guns are handled due to the study on health hazards relating to this, which was conducted by the federal agency. It advised the officers to reduce their contact with the gun.
As a Norfolk traffic police officer, Larry Bobbitt worked with radar for a period of 12 years. In 1988, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and Bobby’s doctor feared that radar gun would be its cause. In an interview, Bobbitt said, “I used to keep the gun on my right lap. I didn’t know where else to put it when I wasn’t pointing it at anyone.” Due to the gravity of the situation, Bobbitt asked the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to look into the safety of the radiation-emitting guns over a long time.
“They tested the radar equipment, they took power output readings and made recommendations of how they thought radar should be used, but they found no concrete evidence they cause cancer,” Bobbitt said. According to him, it was the first time the radar gun was studied as a potential threat to health by the federal agency. Bobbitt’s cancer is now in remission and he has returned to patrol duty.
It has been 38 years that the radar guns are being used by the Virginia police departments. It is considered an effective tool by the Newport News and Hampton police officials, in catching those who cross the speed limit. Deputy Police Chief A.L. Gaskins told that 23 radar units have been tested by the Newport News police department at the NASA-Langley Research Center in Hampton. The radiation level came out to be 0.10, which is much lower than the safe limit of the federal government being 10.
“Radar guns can affect the health if they are not used properly,” said Johnny Mercer, a motorcycle patrolman who taught police radar. He explained that keeping the gun against the body for long spells can increase the risk of cancer. It could be compared with smokers who get lung cancer. While relating the use of a radar gun with a common household appliance, he said “It’s like a microwave oven. If you use a microwave oven a lot and you stick your head in the oven every time you use it, you may get some adverse effect from it.”
Minetti, Hampton police Chief Pat G. has been keeping a check on the radar safety reports and he found out that there were 26 radar guns in Hampton that could be either held in hand or be mounted. The Hampton officers prefer to set their guns in a bracket attached to the dashboard for ensuring maximum safety. According to a Hampton police corporal, “The officers are not allowed to keep the gun across their lap because of its devastating effects on health.”
Virginia State Police troopers mount their guns outside the car. Engemann reported, “Some departments use it inside the car or mount it on the door. Everything we have is designed for use outside the window.” The officers have also been instructed by the Norfolk and Virginia Beach police officials to limit their contact with the radiation-emitting guns.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health advises the officials to avoid holding the radar guns close to their body when the radar unit is on. Not just this, the police departments are instructed to mount the units on the outside of patrol cars whenever they can. There should be a check kept on radiation leakage from the radar gun by the department.
The agency has failed to scientifically connect the microwave radiation emitted by the radar gun with cancer. Nonetheless, radar guns are claimed unsafe by a radar manufacturing company in Kansas, Kustom Signals Inc. In 1990, the issue regarding the health hazards associated with the microwave radiation emitted by the radar guns were first raised by the professional law enforcement publications.
An Ohio Highway Patrol trooper alleged that a lot of police officers were dying and being injured because of the radar guns, after which the use of radar guns was suspended by the police chief, St. Petersburg, until the tests on safety could be completed. “We contacted just about every noted expert in the field of microwave radiation. We found there were two different theories on the safety question. The more academic-minded groups said research was incomplete but we should use caution. The other camp, the government and military, said there was no problem, which left us with a dilemma,” Sgt. William Proffitt said.
“There was not enough evidence to decide whether the officers were in danger because of the radar gun, but due to the distressing situation, the chief decided that no hand-held radar guns will be used any longer. So, we sold them to a company that used them for measuring baseball pitching speed,” Proffitt stated. The hand-held radar is now replaced with a two-piece system, in which the antenna emitting the radar is attached with the light bar on the patrol car’s roof and the display panel is set inside the car. “It was too dangerous for the police department to let the officers be harmed by the radar gun,” said Proffitt.