SAVANNAH, Ga, May 19 2017
Blue lights in the rearview mirror can trigger a feeling of dread for a driver.
It’s a feeling Chad Troccia, a Pooler resident, is familiar with.
Troccia was on his way to the airport in early 2016 when he was pulled over by an officer of the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport Police Department.
What Troccia didn’t know at the time, was that the very equipment that clocked his speed, and led to his ticket, wasn’t supposed to be in the officer’s car.
In a report obtained by WJCL through an Open Records Request, in May 2016, the Georgia Department of Public Safety investigated allegations that the Airport Police Department was using radar equipment without a state-issued permit.
Georgia State Code lists three agencies, aside from the Georgia State Patrol, that are allowed to use Speed Detection Devices on Georgia roads.
According to Georgia State Code 40-14-2:
“Speed detection devices can only be operated by registered or certified peace officers of the county sheriff, county, municipality, college, or university to which the permit is applicable. Persons operating the speed detection devices must be registered or certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council as peace officers and certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council as operators of speed detection devices.”
“Your agency has to have a permit and then you have to successfully complete a course and be issued a license,” said State Representative Bill Hitchens (R-161).
Representative Hitchens was the commissioner of the DPS for 7 years, and is familiar with Speed Detection Permit issues.
“Anybody can buy [a permit] but you have to have a permit to utilize it,” he said.
Airport Police are not listed as an agency that can get one of these state-issue permits.
Representatives for the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport declined to comment on this report, but according to the DPS investigation reports, Airport Police Chief Wofford Wilkins told state investigators that he believed his officers were eligible to “piggy-back” off the permits issued to the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.
According to the report, Chief Wilkins also told investigators there was an agreement between the Airport Police Department and SCMPD to use Metro’s permits.
Emails included in the investigation show SCMPD had no knowledge of any type of agreement.
SCMPD Chief Jack Lumpkin confirmed those findings in a written statement to WJCL:
“The Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department does not have a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport Authority Police Department that allows them to utilize Speed Detection Devices. The SCMPD acquired the authority to use Speed Detection Devices from the Georgia Department of Public Safety. The Georgia Department of Public Safety is the only agency which can grant the authority for an agency to use Speed Detection Devices.”
The state’s investigation started in May 2016.
But in emails, dated April 14th 2016, between Department of Public of Safety employees, there were discussions about when the first report of the improper radar came in, and when the state first made contact with the Airport Police Chief about the issue.
In the first email from April 14th, 2016 at 11:30, DPS Permit Specialist Kaycee Larson writes the DPS may have been notified "quite a while back in regards to Airport Police running radar.”
Minutes later, Angie Holt in the Office of Professional Standards replied, saying she spoke with Airport Police Chief Wofford Wilkins “probably a year ago,” and Holt wrote that she told the chief “his department needed a separate permit.”
The investigation doesn’t detail how long Airport Police were running radar without a state-issued permit, but WJCL found four people between December 2015 and April 2016 who were issued citations for speeding by Airport Police officers.