October 24, 1995 in Idaho

Isp May Be Allowed To Use Unmarked Cars Legislators May Change Law Requiring Obvious Patrol Cars

Winda Benedetti The Associated Press Contributed T Staff writer

The black and white cars, crowned with lights that flash like jewels, give it away almost every time: Police up ahead. Time to slow down.

The Idaho State Police would like to change that.

After a hiatus of 16 years, state legislators are pondering whether to allow the ISP to patrol in unmarked cars again.

Since 1979, Idaho law has required State Police to patrol in clearly marked blackand-white cars. Statehouse lore has it that the law was enacted after a legislator was cited by an officer in an unmarked car.

Exceptions are allowed for vehicles used for certain investigations.

The idea of changing the law came up at a legislative interim meeting at the Statehouse last week. ISP Superintendent Ed Strickfaden said he’d let lawmakers know what other states do.

“I think it’s something we’ve got to take a good, hard look at,” said Sen. Evan Frasure, R-Pocatello, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“If you’re not violating the law, you don’t have anything to worry about,” said ISP Major Tom Thompson.

Unmarked cars would be helpful in patrolling problem traffic areas and enforcing truck speeds, said Capt. Willis Brownlee, head of ISP’s Coeur d’Alene district.

Washington State Patrol and the Oregon State Police use unmarked cars.

WSP troopers say unmarked cars allow them to catch traffic violations and other crimes they might not see.

Two weeks ago, WSP Trooper Rod Schmidt caught three burglars with a load of stolen items in their car. “They probably wouldn’t have pulled out in front of me if I’d had a marked car,” he said.

Oregon State Police park an unmarked car alongside the road to take radar readings on tractor trailers that pass.

A marked unit then stops the truck for a citation.

This prevents truckers from warning each other over CB radios where to slow down for the police cars, said Sgt. Curt Curtis.

Officials say there are some drawbacks to the unmarked cars.

Brownlee said he used an unmarked car before they were outlawed.

“I was concerned about my safety,” he said, explaining that when he pulled a driver over, other motorists didn’t see him as well and didn’t slow down as much when driving around him.

Washington officials say they are experimenting with brighter flashing lights for their unmarked cars.

Oregon does not use unmarked cars in the evenings.

Idaho lawmakers had mixed feelings about the possibility of unmarked cars last week.

Some said there’s a definite deterrent value to having officers patrol in clearly marked vehicles.

Others said there should be no consideration for people who break traffic laws.

ISP’s Thompson said the unmarked cars may actually save money.

ISP regularly replaces a certain number of patrol vehicles in its fleet and would merely replace an outdated car with an unmarked one.

Thompson said they could then save the $500 it costs to paint the special markings on each car.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Winda Benedetti Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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