Strange doings in State College, Pennsylvania
February 8, 2011 6:19 AM   Subscribe

A man sitting on a park bench notices something odd. A police officer drives up to a stop sign at an intersection of two streets in a residential section of a medium-sized college town. The police car stops at the stop sign, then moves forward, clears the intersection and, once on the other side, stops again, opens his car door, waits a few seconds, closes the door, and moves on. A few minutes later a different police officer approaches the intersection from the other direction. This time the police officer stops at the intersection, opens the car door, waits a few seconds, closes the door, then moves through the intersection and drives off. The person on the park bench notices this occurring throughout the morning, day, and night. The pattern is the same but the players change. Different police officers routinely drive down a particular street. They routinely stop on the north side of an intersection only, but in either lane. Sometimes they will stay parked/idle for up to a minute. Whenever they decide to move from their fixed position, they open the driver's side car door, wait a few seconds, close the door, and move on. What's going on?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Mysterious. My only guess is that opening the door turns something on or off, like the video camera, or some light feature in the squad car. The body control computers on those cars are very complicated.

Maybe there is a wireless community area police network doodad at that intersection? I can see this as plausible: the in-car computer is set to not work unless the car is in park, and for some reason, a door has been opened. If they are moving, they would radio in information requests. But if they are parked, they can use the computer?
posted by gjc at 6:34 AM on February 8, 2011

Perhaps they have standing orders to inspect something in the area at that intersection on foot, and there is a system in the patrol cars that is recording the location of the cars and the fact that the door opened and closed.

The officers could be cheating the system by not actually getting out of the cars.
posted by de void at 6:40 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My guess is that they are calibrating the police cars speedometer, they probably have an accurately measured distance between that stop sign and some other landmark. A cars speedometer works by measuring wheel rotations, but this will vary slightly with tyre pressure/temperature so (on a poice car used for evidence) it needs to be calibrated regurarly.

As for the door opening, perhaps thats some logic built into the system to make sure they don't accidentaly recalibrate while on the move.
posted by Lanark at 6:41 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm just Chicago-cynical, but my guess is along the same lines as de void's above.
posted by aramaic at 6:43 AM on February 8, 2011

just curious, is it one of these locations of a CCTV:

Three cameras are deployed at the following locations:

* Corner of East Beaver Avenue and Locust Lane
* Corner of East Beaver Avenue and Heister Street
* Corner of East Calder Way and McAllister Alley.

if so, it might be policy for them to stop at this location to record their patrol... further, they might open their car door to activate something on the camera.
posted by fozzie33 at 6:45 AM on February 8, 2011

Go ask them.

They won't shoot. They might not answer, but then you'll just be in the same state you are now.

If the first one doesn't answer, try a few more.

Most cops aren't creeps. (This is from someone with a profound problem with authority!)
posted by FauxScot at 6:47 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: de void: I like your thinking and am wondering now if I would get officers in trouble if I called the police department and asked what was going on.

fozzie33: This is the intersection of McCormick and Garner, which is more than a mile away from those locations. Officers are driving on McCormick and stopping on the northeast side of the intersection.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:48 AM on February 8, 2011

Could it be that there's a lot of complaints about noise from a particular house in the area? Maybe they are just checking to see if they hear something?
posted by sebas at 6:51 AM on February 8, 2011

Response by poster: FauxScot: I plan to ask them the next time I see it. Frankly I have been busy and haven't driven that street in awhile, but this morning I saw a police officer pull this move in front of me while I was driving. This is maybe the 30th time I've seen a police officer do this at that intersection. I didn't want to bright him/honk/chase him down, so I figured I'd post a question. I may call them later today if I have the time.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:51 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

are they penn state cops, or state college cops?
posted by fozzie33 at 6:54 AM on February 8, 2011

Response by poster: State College cops.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:56 AM on February 8, 2011

I think Lanark is on to it. There's a white line across the whole road on McCormick's North side that isn't on the other streets/intersections. Here's an aerial view. Try driving it and see if there is another one later on.
posted by jwells at 6:59 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Found it. It's a quarter of a mile away exactly.
posted by jwells at 7:09 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fascinating! I always wondered what those white lines were for! (I always thought they were for helicopter chases! No logic, just hope)
posted by jillithd at 7:23 AM on February 8, 2011

The measured distance between the lines sound like a VASCAR speed trap. Maybe the door opening/closing is sending a signal as to whether the police are in attendance at the spot.

Or more likely, Lanark is right and they are calibrating the speedometer.
posted by exogenous at 7:42 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

check this... for calibrating a VASCAR system in police car...
posted by fozzie33 at 7:46 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

also: The only way VASCAR can fall down is in the calibration and daily checks. ACPO policy (note only policy and now law) states that VASCAR devices should be calibrated once a week. They should be tested at the start of a shift and at the end of the shift if it has been used in the detection of an offence. The proof of this calibration should be in the officer pocket note book. If he can't prove the device was calibrated in the last 7 days or tested at the begining and end of the shift, that could cast doubt in the accuracy of the VASCAR unit.
posted by fozzie33 at 7:48 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good points, fozzie33. Could be they are opening the door to make sure they are exactly over the calibration line?
posted by exogenous at 8:05 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: i went to the source...

Our officers conduct speed enforcement using a device called VASCAR. Each day before use, the VASCAR unit must be calibrated and our calibration zone is on McCormick Avenue between Garner Street and University Drive. I hope this helps.

Take care.

Tom King, Chief of Police
Stage College Police Dept.
posted by fozzie33 at 8:20 AM on February 8, 2011 [29 favorites]

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