By Kyle Monson
A bill allowing the Utah Highway Patrol to increase the number of unmarked patrol cars was unanimously approved in a Senate committee meeting.
The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Standing Committee sent Senate Bill 106 to the Senate floor with a favorable status.
SB 106, if approved by the Senate, will modify the Utah Vehicles Code, which currently allows highway patrolmen to utilize only one unmarked car for each operation.
The proposed bill allows the highway patrol to use an unlimited number of unmarked patrol cars in its fleet.
“The highway patrol needs all the tools available at its disposal to keep control of traffic,” said Rep. DeMar “Bud” Bowman, who presented the bill to the Senate committee.
Highway patrolmen present to support the bill were quick to point out that they will be accountable for the use of the unmarked vehicles, and that they prefer marked cars for most purposes.
“It”s not our intent to abuse this whatsoever,” said Col. Scott Duncan. “Our mission is to reduce crashes; we don”t want to ”sneak around.””
The bill included an amendment meant to give the committee the responsibility of regulating the use of any new unmarked patrol cars. The amendment required highway patrol officials to report to the committee three times a year on their use.
The committee, however, felt that such frequent reports were unnecessary, and rejected the amendment.
“The committee was hostile to that idea,” said Senator Greg Bell, committee chairman.
Trooper Randall Akers testified to the committee that the lack of unmarked patrol cars hampered the highway patrol”s efforts to catch “aggressive drivers” – drivers who commit three moving violations concurrently.
Aggressive drivers search attentively for highway patrol cars and know where they hide, he said.
“Unmarked vehicles are the only solution,” Akers concluded.
The bill would allow the highway patrol to use unmarked cars more frequently, but no additional vehicles would be added to the force, said Duncan. A few marked cars would eventually be replaced by unmarked cars.
“We still have to get the authorization through the legislature,” said Duncan. “Based on our reception in the committee, we”re pretty hopeful.”