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Leaping ahead in police vehicle technology

The Prineville Police Department has purchased a new vehicle and upgraded it with the latest technological innovations

by: RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - A Prineville Police Department officer stands in front of the new Ford Interceptor utility vehicle, which hit the streets of Prineville this week.

A new police utility vehicle will soon hit the streets of Prineville, and the custom-designed vehicle will provide a safer environment for officers and passengers.
   “This is kind of leap ahead in police vehicle technology,” commented Prineville Police Chief Eric Bush. “I think police cars are the one piece of equipment that is the most recognizable for a police department. Everyone can relate to seeing a police car. It’s a critical piece of equipment for a lot of obvious reasons, but the great thing that this platform will give us is a safer vehicle, and a much-more efficient vehicle.”
   The 2012 Ford Explorer Police Interceptor Utility has been custom retrofitted and installed by the Technology Department of the City of Prineville and Webster Communciations. According to Bush, this saves the taxpayers a great deal of money.
   “Ford added a lot of things that are specific to law enforcement in this vehicle,” said City of Prineville Information Technology Manager James Wilson.
   He demonstrated an example of the ballistic door panels, which have a type of armor plating for officers to take cover. The back doors also open an extra 11 degrees to allow for easier transport of detainees.
   The local vehicle is a utility version of the Interceptor, and has a significant amount of upgrades and modifications inside and out. Bush indicated that the interceptor was purchased out of last year’s budget, and they have purchased a new Ford Taurus sedan out of this year’s budget. It will have the same technology and upgrades, but it may be several months before the Taurus hits the road. The PPD currently has eight marked vehicles on the road, not including the Interceptor and Taurus. They will retire one when the utility is ready to hit the road, and Bush said that the current fleet is down from five years ago — which was 11 vehicles at that time.
    The light bar is a multi-color LED, with the options of red, blue, white or amber. Wilson said that depending on the scene that the officers are approaching, they can change the lights from an emergency warning device to a bright white flood light to light up the entire area. A redesigned light bar also increases the warning power of the lights to the sides and rear which is very important when approaching intersections. The back doors also have metal bars over the windows.
   “A lot of times people like to roll over and kick at the windows,” indicated Wilson. “They can’t do that anymore.”
   There is also a clear center divider in the back seat, which is sound proof.
   In the back of the vehicle, Wilson said that they took out the spare tire and placed an electronic bay, which provides easy access to diagnose and monitor the technology in and outside of the vehicle. Wilson noted that they have an extra battery, because there are several electronic systems that draw a lot of energy. There is an integrated video system on board, so the local dispatch center can pull up the front and rear cameras. Once connected, the dispatcher can stream live video from the vehicle to the center to check on the officer’s status or inform other responding units about what is happening at the scene. With a second camera, dispatch can also see into the prisoner compartment.
   “The video system also has different sensors in it, so when the officer activates his light bar, the camera comes on and starts recording automatically, so it’s not another thing he has to think of when he stops the vehicle,” he said.
   Wilson added that the vehicle has a crash sensor and record feature in case of a vehicle crash. The system also pre-records up to three minutes.
   “A little bit like a black box.”
   The vehicle is equipped with 4G mobile broadband and is equipped with a Wi-Fi hotspot. This will enable officers to pair devices such as laptops or tablet computers which can be removed from the vehicle and taken with the officer while conducting an investigation — while still being connected to databases back at the office.
   “It’s going to give us a technical capability to do a lot more with a car than has ever been done with a police car in the past. We’re pretty excited about it,” exclaimed Bush.
   Wilson elaborated that the vehicle was also retrofitted to make more room in the front cab to compensate for the prisoner compartment. The seats are also wider to accommodate the gear that officers wear on a daily basis.
   “All of this is custom,” Wilson pointed out.
   He said that the technology department from the City and Greg Webster of Webster Communications designed the entire electronic bay, and created the bars on the window and some of the other individual features.
   “It’s a pleasure to do work for the City,” said Webster. “These are definitely advance vehicles, as far as the equipment and the vehicle itself.”