Kandy Burdick was certain that she hadn't been speeding that day, no matter what the officer — or his radar gun — said.
The 64-year-old grandmother from Florida said she hadn't been pulled over for more than 40 years until a Cottageville police officer ticketed her in October while she was there visiting family.
She wasn't sure what would happen in the small courtroom a month later. She certainly didn't expect the officer to reluctantly admit, under her questioning, that he wasn't state certified to operate his radar equipment.
The judge ultimately threw out the case, but not until Burdick had unknowingly stumbled onto one of the law enforcement community's little-known facts: officers don't have to be certified in radar-equipment use to write tickets after using it.
The state Criminal Justice Academy discourages officers from operating speed-detection equipment until they take its free, three-day training certification course, but state law doesn't mandate it. Speed-detection devices include radar and lidar; the latter uses a laser to measure speed.
As a result, departments across the Lowcountry are training their own officers at various levels and then allowing them to ticket drivers for two months to two years before they eventually become certified.
Many of the departments are small, but not all of them. Mount Pleasant has 70 officers allowed to operate radar guns, 38 of whom are state certified.
The officer who pulled Burdick over wrote 25 tickets from the time he completed field training to the time he began his certification course, Cottageville Police Chief Paul Haase said. He started the state course three days after ticketing Burdick,
Burdick and her husband, Bill, said they were shocked to find that officers don't have to be state certified.
"It seems a little backward that I need a piece of paper that allows me to drive but he doesn't need a license to operate a device that says I'm driving too fast," Kandy Burdick said.
Two former police-officers-turned-lawmakers said departments shouldn't allow uncertified officers to use the devices, despite what the law says.
Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, called it common sense. "To me it ought to be just common practice and professionalism to make sure officers are the best and well-trained officer you can put out there," he said.
Mount Pleasant Sgt. Steve Meadows said the department's goal is to certify all of its officers, but it's a manpower issue. Taking officers off the street for days at a time would leave them shorthanded.
"Being state certified is always a good thing, it's what we're striving for within our constraints," Meadows said. "We would love to have everyone certified."
Operating a radar gun isn't complicated in and of itself. Testing, maintaining and recognizing errors are the tricky parts, experts say.
"There's a science behind it and there's an art to part of it," said Dale Smith, traffic safety program manager for the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.
Officers have to learn how to determine a car's speed without the equipment. The officer then pushes the button on the gun to verify the assessment.
All of that, the maintenance of the equipment and the science behind it are covered in the first two days of the department's course. The third day is a road test, and Smith said the academy suggests that officers don't write tickets until they pass the final day of the course.
"The more training we can provide the field, the better service we can provide the public," Smith said.
Mount Pleasant police officers are allowed to run radar if they show proficiency following a four-hour "familiarization class" with a certified instructor.
Cottageville, Hanahan and Harleyville police train the officers to use the equipment during their field training.
Hanahan Police Lt. Mike Fowler, a certified training officer, said he also reviews the basics with the officers. The department will allow officers to run radar until classes come open, which is usually no longer than eight months.
"The only way to learn it really is to get out there and use it," Fowler said.
The majority of Lowcountry departments, including the S.C. Highway Patrol, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office and North Charleston Police Department, don't allow their officers to operate the equipment without state certification.
"I wouldn't want anybody on a tractor who doesn't know how to run a tractor," Ridgeville Police Chief Quintion Joyner said. "I'd rather my officers be certified."
Goose Creek police officers are not allowed to write radar-based tickets for speeding until they are state certified, because it reduces the challenges in court.
Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, a former police officer, said he doesn't think a ticket written by a non-certified officer would hold up in court if challenged.
"They are not going to win the case if they don't have the proper certification," Pitts said. "Before I go to court and be embarrassed, I'm going to be certified."
Burdick can't say for sure why Municipal Court Judge Michael Evans found her not guilty. Evans didn't explain in court, nor did he return calls for comment.
Meadows and Fowler said to their knowledge their departments have never had a ticket overturned because a police officer wasn't state certified in radar.
Knotts said manpower should not be an excuse for lack of training. Motorists are going to start asking for more jury trials to challenge their tickets, meaning officers are going to spend more time in court.
Motorists "aren't going to get a fair shot from the judge because he's hired by the same people as the police officer," Knotts said.
Sen. Brad Hutto, a defense attorney from Orangeburg, said no one has ever raised this issue with him, but now that it has been, the criminal law subcommittee he heads likely will evaluate it, he said.
Pitts, who said he thought it was already law, said he thinks the state should mandate all officers be certified before they run radar and write speeding tickets.
Knotts said the state shouldn't have to have a law. "I don't think it should take a law to make a police department be professional," he said.