Candid camera: Scarborough police use disguised vehicles to trap speeders

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SCARBOROUGH — Who slows down to the speed limit when they drive by a public works vehicle?

Apparently not a lot of drivers in Scarborough.

Last week, police carried out an eight-hour radar detail from the cab of a Department of Public Works truck and nabbed 96 drivers for operating at least 5 mph over the 35-mph speed limit. Police issued 19 summonses for speeding and other violations during the operation, Sgt. John O’Malley said. One driver was clocked at a speed of 60 mph and one of the summonses issued was for operating after suspension.

The Scarborough Special Enforcement Unit conducted the operation Sept. 10 from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Payne, Holmes and Running Hill Roads, O’Malley said. During that time, two officers were based in the truck, relaying license plate numbers and descriptions of speeding vehicles to officers who waited in “chase cars” and on a motorcycle.

According O’Malley, who spearheaded the effort and operated the radar gun, in each case the truck was parked close to the road and was clearly visible to motorists, but at the same time, was not positioned to obstruct traffic. O’Malley said while he was on duty, he never tried to hide the gun or the fact that he was with the police.

He said police targeted traffic along those roads because they are the three about which they receive the most speeding complaints.

“Though our mission was focused primarily on speed, we were able to observe other violations such as inspection stickers, registration stickers, vehicle defects and seat belts,” O’Malley said.

He admitted that not everyone was pleased by the sting, but said overall the response was positive.

Police Chief Robert Moulton came up with the idea of camouflaging the radar operation with a nondescript vehicle to catch unsuspecting speeders. The unit plans to conduct future operations in other mystery vehicles.

“The plan is, we will randomly deploy it at random times and different days of the week. It leaves people with the sense that they don’t know where and when it might happen,” Moulton said. “If we use a Public Works vehicle, next time they see a Public Works vehicle, they don’t know if a radar’s sitting in it or a Public Works guy. Voluntary compliance is our goal.”

Moulton said speeding complaints are up in many areas of town. And with school back in session, he said it’s particularly important to get people’s attention. Though no schedule has been set for future camouflage operations, he said he plans to conduct the detail an average of up to three times a month.

“I don’t want to get set on that, either,” he said. “We might run it two days in a row; we might go two months without one. It could be an unmarked car; it could be anything. That’s the point of it – people shouldn’t be tipped off.”

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or

Scar cops 1.JPGSgt. John O’Malley checks the speed of Payne Road traffic from the inside of a Department of Public Works truck. The Scarborough Police Department used the vehicle last week to help detect speeders.

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Scarcops2.JPGScarborough Police Sgt. John O’Malley tracks the speed of a car on Payne Road from his vantage point in a Department of Public Works truck. The department stopped 96 vehicles for speeding during an eight-hour period Sept. 10.