(Photo Courtesy Ram Mounts)
Think long and hard about what you'll be doing in your patrol vehicle and when you'll need your mounted equipment. Assign someone to take the lead on researching consoles and mounts.
(Photo Courtesy Ram Mounts)
Keep what's most important--like weapons, communications and lights and siren--where you can get to them fast. Keep what's most important--like weapons, communications and lights and siren.
FEATURED IN VEHICLE OPS
As a contributor to this magazine and a few EMS-related publications, I go to a lot of trade shows and see a lot of vehicles. It seems the choices for mounting cool goodies in your patrol vehicle are endless. Technological advances in mounting systems have made it more affordable and feasible to install mobile computers, in-car printers, camera systems and weapons mounts in a variety of police vehicles. It can be easy to drink the Kool-Aid when playing with all of these new goodies, but choosing the right mounting systems should be based on officer safety and the reality of the demands of your specific agency. The technology may be slick, but if it doesn't get used, it's a waste.
When considering mounting systems, there are two areas of focus: electronics and weapons. Let's look at each a little more closely and go over some considerations.
Where to Put Gadgets
When considering mounting systems, it's important to consider the environment the system was designed for. Ask some questions. Was it originally designed for the rigors of the police environment? Is it made of low-grade plastic, high-tech polymers or metal? Is there a history of the unit being used in the police environment? Who else has used the mounting unit, and how can they be contacted? Can it be field tested first?
Having a crossover mounting system isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending on where the previous field experience was. For example, if the mount routinely saw use in harsh military environments, it should do well in a police vehicle. If it comes straight from the civilian marketplace, it pays to investigate what steps have been taken to enhance its durability.
Mount adjustability is key. As we know, every officer is a different size, so ensure a center console works whether the driver s seat is all the way forward or fully extended. This especially applies to seatbelt issues. I've seen a few console installations where the metal box was too long for the center of the car. Consequently, the seatbelt buckle assembly got jammed between the seat and the side of the console. Add in a duty belt and you can say goodbye to fastening or unfastening that seatbelt in a timely manner. That's especially critical in traffic stops, where quick egress is mandatory. We all wear our seatbelts, right?
Another consideration is where the siren control box is located. Proper ergonomics in higher stress situations can make the difference between properly locating siren, light and spotlight choices or missing them entirely. I've actually seen installations where the siren control box was buried down by the floor, under the radio unit. Officers went on a treasure hunt every time they needed to activate their overheads. With today's vast array of customized options, that s unacceptable. The siren box and light controls should be positioned where the arm and hand naturally extend, and it should be consistently placed in every vehicle in your fleet.
Radio placement is equally important. I ve seen installations where the radio is back between the front seats. Unless you moonlight as a stand-in for Cirque du Soleil, reaching the radio can be problematic at best, not to mention your elbow can have a tendency to bump against the radio buttons Oops. Again, the console should allow for forward mounting of the radio unit near the siren box because they're the two pieces of electronics in the console that are used the most. LoJack, camera controls, arrow sticks and other electronics are nice to have, but when setting up the console order, the priority goes to communication and those cool lights and siren.
Finally, don t forget the cup holders. Because consoles and MCTs are routinely installed in the center of the dash area to avoid air-bag deployment issues, the lack of a proper cup holder can be a real problem. Officers wear gear that makes them sweata lot, so it's important to stay hydrated throughout your shift. Having to jam a water bottle between the seat and cage isn t acceptable. With today's radar and camera units self-contained in such areas as the dash and rearview mirror, plenty of options exist for proper cup-holder installation that shouldn't be ignored.
The Information Pipeline
There are a number of considerations for where the computer should be mounted in the car. Some systems mount entirely in the interior of the car, while others have the hard drive mounted in the trunk with the keyboard and screen up front. In such a case, installation of a trunk-mounted unit will require hard wiring that an up-front unit won't.
Having a fixed or removable unit directly affects mounting options. Fixed-mount systems have a centrally located screen up near the dash, which allows both officers to see it and use the detachable keyboard to provide inputs. This means potential interference with HVAC switches, air vents, cup holders and other factory items.
A laptop system, on the other hand, requires the keyboard and screen to remain aligned, so it s usually mounted to the side of the console in an area that requires passenger air-bag deactivation. This usually requires a mount that swivels toward the driver officer, which points it away from the passenger. Depending on how your department trains, this may or may not be an issue, but it's something to look at. It could be unreasonable if you plan on having more than one officer in the vehicle.
The 200 mph Challenge
Air bags pop out at about 200 mph, more or less, so that presents a real problem for officers, who are surrounded by extraneous gear. In a crash, anything unsecured in the cab might become a projectile. Deciding which system to use can affect the degree to which the installed item can influence officer safety in a collision.
When looking at consoles and mounts, look at installations of the product in other vehicles. For mobile computers, note whether the system is mounted solely on a rotating platform somewhere along the transmission tunnel or whether it s hard-mounted flat up in the dash area where it s less likely to be affected by inertial rotation from a side collision. How much does the system weigh? Where is the keyboard when it's not in use? Is the keyboard integrated into the computer, like in a laptop configuration? Or is a separate mount required? Will the installation of the unit require the added expense of installing passenger side air-bag defeat switches? Will activation of the passenger air bag thrust the screen and/or computer toward the officer? How about a rollover? Will that camera on the windshield take off like a 747 in a collision? Or should you consider a rearview mirror unit with a hard mount in the center console?
The bottom line: When looking at different systems, think about how the size and position of the system will affect officer safety in crash situations.
The Gun Goes Where?
I once saw an officer's vehicle with the AR-15 mounted directlyabovehis head across the inside of the roof. Think about it. Not only does it cause a serious concern if there s a rollover, but retrieval would be awkward at best. Heck, just hitting a big bump could have knocked him unconscious. Sounds crazy, but I ve seen it done.Question:Where do we safely place our long gun and how quickly can we access it?
I think having a rifle or shotgun mounted in the trunk is an unwise decision. When I encountered felony suspects on traffic stops, the last place I ever wanted to go was to the trunk to dig out a long gun. In my patrol car, my AR-15 had a happy spot between the front seats along the front of the cage, and it had company there with my 870 shotgun. A flick of the switch on my ergonomically placed siren box, and I could retrieve my rifle in just a few seconds. That was a huge difference from other agencies that had their officers digging in the trunk, sometimes even for shotguns. In time-critical situations, with the amount of mounting options out there, not having a long gun where it s instantly accessible is unacceptable. If this means your center console will need to be shorter to give you maneuvering room, so be it.
When thinking weapons, think about where you want it, how you want to access it and what happens if you need to add more equipment in the future.
Test, Test & Test Some More
If you re going to take the time to research console and mounting systems, then make the commitment on several fronts. First, ensure you assign people who are enthusiastic about the research to conduct it.
Second, give them the resources read:people and time to properly conduct the research needed to make sure the right console and mounting systems are chosen. One person charged with researching all of the possibilities isn t enough. Representatives from IT, the radio shop, accounting, training, as well as line officers should be included.
Third, leave them alone to allow them to properlyfinishthe project. Nothing kills the process more than making a round-robin out of the research committee. If you can t commit the resources, then put the project on hold until you have them. Test, test and test some more because once you buy it, you live with it.
Outfitting a patrol vehicle properly is no small deal. Use the guidelines outlined above and take the time to pick the consoles and mounts that will make the inside of your department s patrol vehicles efficient, enjoyable and, most of all, safe for every officer on the street.