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‘Flashback’: Evolution of police radar has been tough — and sometimes dangerous — for officers throughout history

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SEATTLE METROPOLITAN POLICE MUSEUM — “Do you know how fast you were going?” It’s a question many drivers have heard a police officer ask after getting pulled over for speeding.

Police always know because they clock you with a radar gun.

It’s technology that’s taken for granted today, but as Seattle Police Ofc. Jim Ritter shows us in ‘Flashback,’ the evolution of radar has been tough — and sometimes dangerous — for police.

"Many unfortunate motorists out there, including me, have received a speeding ticket as a result of police radar. What we all take for granted as a stealthy speed measuring device has an interesting history all to its own.”

“Radar was invented during WWII by the Grumman Aircraft Corporation to assist in solving it's landing problems with its amphibious planes. Following the war police began experimenting with radar to conduct traffic surveys and to begin issuing tickets for speeding.”

“The original radar devices were very large, heavy and awkward to operate with some requiring large tripods outside the police car with long cables to transmit the speed to the meter.”

“During the 1950's and 1960's many interesting radar concepts were manufactured including a futuristic design used by the City of Black Diamond police that could be mounted on the side of the window or to replace the spotlight for a multitude of directions. Most radar used during the 1960's and 1970's had the antenna portion mounted on behind the drivers head. This could allow the officer to remain parked inside his car while monitoring traffic coming from behind. When moving radar began to appear in the 1970's it allowed the officers to drive their police vehicles and monitor the speeds of cars coming towards them simply by turning this antenna forward.” “Although useful, early versions of moving radars were dangerous and often exposed police officers to deadly radiation because the radar beam was too close to their head.”

“Years later officers began using handheld and laser guided radar that can precisely determine which vehicle is speeding and eliminated the broad-beam questionable readings of the old system.”

“Regardless of the style or design or radars throughout history, one thing's for sure: If you get caught speeding it's going to cost you a whole lot of money. I'm Ofc. Jim Ritter and this is 'Flashback.’