(PHOTO DALE STOCKTON)
LEDs take up less space, shine brighter, draw less energy and provide more options for configuration. Photo JP Molnar
Mobile data computers come in many configurations but one thing is certain: They are a must in today’s law enforcement world.Photo JP Molnar
Photo JP Molnar
FEATURED IN VEHICLE OPS
In the classic 1980 movie, The Blues Brothers, there’s a scene where Jake and Elwood Blues have been stopped by an Illinois State Trooper. During the stop, Elwood tells his brother “I bet these cops got SCMODS.” Jake replies, “SCMODS?” Elwood says, “State County Municipal Offender Data System.”
As a kid watching that movie, I couldn’t help but think it was pretty darn cool that there was a computer in a police vehicle that could do what SCMODS could. Of course, being 1980, the reality of a mobile data terminal was still a few years away, but so much about the police vehicles of that time brings up an interesting comparison as to what today’s law enforcement vehicles contain compared to our “sleds” of yesteryear. From top to bottom, and everywhere in between, today’s technologies can keep officers safer on the streets and more efficient.
As a supervisor or fleet manager, integrating these technologies increases longevity of equipment (more on that later) and increases productivity in the field. As a patrol officer, new and emerging technologies allow you to do your job better and safer. Although there are many agencies using technology to do more with less, too many refuse to rethink the old paradigm. Because there are so many new products hitting the market every year, the following isn’t a history of technologies, but more a compilation of what’s out there and why.
Police vehicles are safer, faster and stronger than ever before. They’re also equipped with technologies that we could only dream about in days past.
Consider power. Back in the mid 1980s, the Dodge Diplomat police vehicle churned out 175 hp from its 318 V-8. Even a few years ago, 250 hp seemed a lot. These days, the Hemi Charger, Ford Interceptor and upcoming Caprice all pound out 300+ hp. This power means much quicker response, which is especially helpful when gathering up a violator for a traffic violation. Plain and simple, the quicker you can catch them, the shorter the time for something bad to happen. Of course, this added power means that more chassis and drive train control is needed. This is where a new patrol vehicle can pay off in spades.
Prior to the introduction of the Charger, there really wasn’t a viable option for stability control or traction control in the police market. These two active safety devices, coupled with ABS, work well to help an officer retain control should they find themselves overdriving a situation. This translates to fewer crashes, less wear and tear on the vehicles, and, most importantly, officers staying alive.
And, with the introduction of the AWD Interceptor, this could be a godsend for those departments that need all-weather traction, but want a lower center of gravity vehicle or don’t want to convert to SUVs. In the case of the new Interceptor, the interior is designed to accept consoles from the now-departing Crown Victoria. This means, as a fleet buyer or supervisor, you can place your officers in a vehicle that comes standard with multiple active-safety technologies, plus passive safety features, such as multiple airbags and curtains, without the added cost of new consoles.
A redesigned Charger in 2011 and the new Caprice, as well as the ever-popular Tahoe PPV, offer levels of acceleration, braking, cornering and safety that place officers in a much safer environment to work in. The Crown Victoria has served its purpose well, but you can’t get around the fact that it is past its prime, and many new choices exist. Yes, times and budgets are tight. But if one new patrol vehicle equipped with AWD, stability and traction control, ABS and multiple airbags saves an officer’s life or allows them to miss striking something they may have hit with an older, less sophisticated vehicle, it’s worth the investment.
Speaking of investments, many departments have extended the rotation periods of patrol cars due to impacted budgets. Weigh these decisions carefully because they delay getting safer vehicles into the fleet. Preventing one serious-injury crash due to an outdated, high-mileage vehicle will easily pay for a couple of new patrol cars.
Emergency Lighting Options
If you aren’t using LED lighting sources, you should be and here’s why. First, an LED is a solid-state object that produces light when energy passes through it. A diode is a form of semiconductor, which means it can conduct current and is extremely efficient. When activated, light refracts forward toward the top of the bulb, creating an intense light in one direction that isn’t reliant on reflectors like incandescent or strobe bulbs. They’re also very durable and vibration resistant because there’s no filament or moving parts to worry about. This means they’re cheaper in the long run for purchasers and brighter for officer safety.
Another advantage is the power draw. Strobes and incandescent bulbs suck power, but a 9-watt LED can perform as effectively as a 60-watt bulb and produce a whiter light. It also does this with much less heat because there’s no filament to heat up. In fact, the temperature is so much lower that plastic is used for the bulb construction. Another amazing advantage of the LED is that it’s self-contained in a tiny space. They run cool and can be mounted pretty much anywhere because the amount of space required isn’t much more than the LED diode itself.
The flexibility of LED choices allows multiple illumination angles that can be addressed in a small area. This is especially helpful when clearing an intersection. Overhead light bars can be much thinner and lower profile because LEDs are smaller, which increases fuel economy and reduces wind noise. In the space of one dedicated strobe light, there can now be multiple LED lights, each with a specific color and duty.
LED technology is more than just light bars. Several options now exist for LED spotlights that emit a much brighter, whiter light at a fraction of the power draw of traditional bulb setups. When it comes to efficiency, performance, durability, flexibility and lighting design and placement, it’s pretty hard to beat the LED.
LPR, or license plate recognition, has been around since the mid-1970s in the UK, but it’s only entered the U.S. marketplace in the last few years. It’s a proven technology that deserves serious consideration because it marries the computerized process of registration checks with the physical presence of the officer and police vehicle in a seamless manner. The second set of eyes provided by LPR, coupled with immediate and constant access to data streams through a mobile computer setup, inevitably result in increased violator apprehension and crime discovery result. Plus, it’s safer for the officer for several reasons.
First, the system is doing the checking automatically, which allows the officer to keep their eyes on the road. Second, it identifies violators in a proactive manner, which means that officers can gather significant information about the vehicle and potential intentions of its occupants prior to the initiation a traffic stop. This is especially critical when identifying stolen vehicles, and even those drivers possessing a suspended or revoked driver’s license. As we know, knowledge is power. LPR allows officers to identify violators in a significantly more efficient manner, while garnering needed funding for governmental entities by identifying and gathering fines from the more mundane discoveries such as expired registration and parking citations.
Another valuable benefit is that LPR times and geo stamps as it checks plates, which is immensely beneficial for investigators trying to determine where a vehicle of interest may or may not have been at a given time. (Editor’s Note: Law Officer has an extensive library of articles on LPR utilization. Visit www.lawofficer.com and enter the keyword “LPR.”)
Radar & Lidar
Radar’s been around for a long time, but the features available these days simply blow older units right out of the water. I remember my first radar unit. It seemed the size of a phone book, took up half the dash with wires running everywhere and crude switching gear. Ergonomically, it was a mess, and the sheer size of it meant trouble in the event of a crash. Did I mention that it was unreliable and limited in its abilities?
Times have changed. New units are significantly more powerful and much, much smaller. In fact, some of the latest displays aren’t much bigger than a deck of cards, but pack a punch with readability and features. They come with infrared remote controls, and the size of the antennae unit allows for multiple mounting options that are well out of the way of airbags. Plus a smaller, lighter profile means less inertia and mass flying though the air in the event of a collision. Units also feature customizable front and rear antenna configurations. One antenna can be set to read traffic moving in opposite direction, and the other can read traffic moving in the same direction. This means an officer can monitor both directions of travel at the same time while moving down the roadway, something unheard of a few years ago.
Other advances include improved antennas that pretty much eliminate the ghosting and shadowing problems of older units and improved shielding to prevent interference with other items in the vehicle. Automatic speed calculation has also improved, which allows for much more precise target selection without the need for faster/slower process, and there are even new units on the market that show target distances on the screen for verification, as well as warn officers if a vehicle is approaching quickly from the rear.
Lidar is another emerging technology that’s becoming increasingly common in traffic enforcement. Completely portable, lidar features a laser ranging system that can detect speeds as far as 7,000 feet away with accuracy within one foot. It offers precise detection when conducting traffic enforcement in a stationary mode. Because it’s handheld, it doesn’t need to reside with just one vehicle. Speed readings can be taken from multiple directions and angles. Coupled with a read time of less than half a second and crosshairs or red dot in the viewfinder that clearly identify the violator vehicle, lidar provides results that are hard to dispute, which is helpful in court.
It’s a fairly new technology, but traffic officers say lidar makes them more productive. Best of all, as a supervisor or fleet purchaser, you don’t need to put one in every car and can delegate them to specific officers. And as officers, you don’t have to wait until your patrol vehicle has one installed. You can just get trained, grab and go.
Mobile Data Computers
A mobile data computer is virtually a must-have item in today’s police car. Unfortunately, many agencies still don’t have them despite the fact they made their debut in the early 1980s. A well-designed, in-car computing system allows for report generation in the field that can be wirelessly transmitted to data servers at the station for retrieval. This saves a lot of time because officers don’t need to spend needless transit time traveling back to the station, which takes them off of their street and away from their beat. The MDC provides access to extensive data on incidents, vehicles and individuals, plus real-time updates and notification to dispatch and other units. An automatic vehicle locating (AVL) technology is an option that can prove critical in quickly locating an officer in trouble. It also allows supervisors to tactically place and track resources in the field, as well as guide officers to calls using the most efficient routes.
There are two aspects to MDC integration: hardware and software. Hardware-wise, the choices basically come down to a hardwired system or a portable laptop. It really depends on the type of work your officers do. If they’re state troopers who mostly work from their vehicles, an integrated unit might make sense. Newer units place most of the gear in the trunk to maximize space and safety, placing the display between the front airbags against the dash, with the keyboard down low and many functions that utilize touch screen navigation. Conversely, if your officers are out of their vehicles a lot, then a laptop might be the way to go. Newer technologies also allow for integration with LPR, in-car video and mobile printing, and there are multiple data streams available.
Let me be the first to say I loved my in-car camera system. The ability to accurately record the events of a traffic stop, pursuit, arrest, field sobriety evaluation, prisoner transport, combative subject and other opportunities made it invaluable in court, in report writing and for recalling and reviewing incidents. That said, my first unit relied on VHS tapes, which were environmentally susceptible to damage due to heat, ate up a lot of space and provided average video quality. I’m sure there are other departments that still rely on VHS systems. New technologies in data storage make it almost mandatory for consideration.
One of the biggest changes in vehicle technology has been the integration of the camera system into the MDC software. Until recently, digital recording systems had standalone interfaces that facilitated operation through a dedicated screen and activation system, with either DVD or DVR recording devices mounted in the trunk. Those systems still remain, but what has changed is the ability to operate, view and recall video data directly from the MDC console. This allows for a much larger screen, which means more options and less hardware in the driver’s area, which is safer and requires less wiring which is better for fleet integration. It also means the video data can be wirelessly transmitted to data servers for secure storage, thereby eliminating the need for data storage in the vehicle. This reduces maintenance in the vehicle, as well as complexities in moving equipment from one vehicle to another. It also reduces equipment failure due to environmental issues, and frees up trunk space.
Cameras have also gotten smaller, and the video capture resolution has improved with better light sensors and lens optics. Some systems have become integrated into the rear view mirror assembly, and almost all modern systems feature pre-event recording. Many options exist based on your need, price point and application. Regardless, the evidentiary value a video system provides for officers, coupled with a supervisor’s ability to confirm or refute allegations against officers, as well as review incidents for training, makes it a must-have in your next patrol vehicle.
Today’s patrol vehicles have come a long way since SCMODS was giving Jake and Elwood heartburn back in 1980. Every aspect of the law enforcement vehicle has changed significantly, with available technologies in performance, operation and data management that were pipedreams only a few years ago. Vehicles are faster, handle better and are safer than ever before. They are full of force multipliers—computers, cameras, radar units and LPR—all in less space than was before considered possible.
Technology won’t replace the officer. After all, this is still a human business. However, it will continue to help make our jobs easier and more productive. Hopefully, some of the aforementioned will find its way into your next patrol vehicle.