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Suit may impede police

LAWRENCEVILLE — Beware of local speed demons, as a lawsuit between Gwinnett and its cities could leave local law enforcement empty-handed in stopping them.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety recently informed Gwinnett Police and six city police departments their permits to use radar guns for speed enforcement will not be renewed, unless the two-year dispute over service delivery is resolved.

Permits, which cover all speed detection devices such as laser and radar guns for three years, expire for the Gwinnett police force at the end of the year, as well as for the city police in Duluth, Lilburn, Lawrenceville, Auburn, Norcross and Suwanee.

That could mean the only jurisdictions allowed to use the devices are the police departments in Loganville, where a permit expires at the end of 2011, and Braselton and Snellville, where permits expire in 2013. The Georgia State Patrol can also enforce speed across the state.

“We question whether this is a good sanction if it puts everyone’s safety at risk,” Duluth City Manager Phil McLemore said, adding that it would hurt city revenues but would have its most dramatic effect on lives.

Both city and county officials have said they are trying to learn how to remedy the situation, which was caused because the lack of a formal service delivery strategy between the jurisdictions has caused them all to lose their qualified local government status.

Without that status, they are not eligible for any grants or permits issued by the state.

When the local service delivery strategy expired last year, a judge ruled that the governments should not face those sanctions while they negotiated a settlement, but he lifted that order this year. In August, 14 of Gwinnett’s 15 cities and the county presented their cases in court, and the governments are now awaiting a judge’s ruling.

“It is possible that the service delivery lawsuit will be resolved before the permit expires, but we are reviewing our options should that not be the case,” Gwinnett government spokesman Joe Sorenson said.

If the ruling comes before Dec. 31, the speed detection device permits may not be an issue.

“We would really like to see this agreement take place,” McLemore said. “I don’t think it benefits anybody to drag it out.”

Gwinnett Police Chief Charles Walters said the dilemma will not keep his department from enforcing the rules of the road.

“Speed detection devices are only one of the tools used to protect the public on our roadways,” he said. “If that tool is unavailable to us, the Gwinnett County Police Department will continue to use every resource available in our efforts to keep Gwinnett County roads as safe as possible for our citizens.”