Today I had the opportunity to see just what level of technology the modern police car uses by visiting my local police station. No, I couldn’t just drop by and get a demonstration. There was a bit of red tape, but nothing severe. Once my visit was approved and scheduled it was just a matter of meeting up with the officer at the appointed time.
My first impression was how sinister the patrol unit looked that the officer was using that day. It was an unmarked, all black Chevy sport utility vehicle with dark tinted windows. The typical patrol car the town uses is your Ford Crown Victoria, but this was one of a few vehicles that the town uses that is unmarked.
It turned out that is was an excellent choice to demonstrate the technology since it made it very easy for me to see the equipment and for the officer to demonstrate and explain how it is used.
Police cars have come a long way over the decades. There was a time when there was no way to communicate with a moving police car. Then a few cities instituted one-way radios. Yes, that’s correct; the cars could only receive instructions and information. It took a while for the technology of two-way communications with patrol cars to come about, but when it did it transformed how police cars were used.
It was said back the day that you can outrun Chevy, Ford, and Chrysler, but you can’t outrun Motorola. Those were the days when every police car had a large whip antenna bolted to the rear fender.
You still can’t outrun the radio, but there is a lot more to law enforcement technology in today’s police vehicles. Analog radios have given way to digital and a laptop computer is mounted in just about every patrol car. In addition to that there is speed monitoring equipment and digital video recording cameras mounted in many of the cruisers.
Yes, digital video recording. In the stress of a chase or a vehicle stop there is probably no better memory than that of the video camera. The video is also synchronized with GPS derived location so that events can be correlated with just where they occurred. If a suspect decides to toss something out of their moving vehicle the officer can “mark” the location as the pursuit continues preserving what could be critical evidence that might otherwise be lost in the heat of the moment.
The GPS tracking also allows dispatch and the central office to know where each unit is at just about any time. Thus, if an officer becomes injured or disabled, the location is still going to be known so that aid can be dispatched and search time is minimized greatly.
The computer in the patrol car offers many functions that continue to grow by leaps and bounds. The screens that interface with the officer also continue to improve and become more “friendly” and useful. A great deal of information is available to the patrol officer that is making a traffic stop. Far more than you might assume.
It is pretty much impossible to fudge answers to any questions that an officer might ask you if you happen to be the person stopped.
Have you misplaced your license? Patrol officers in this town carry wireless finger print scanners that are smaller than a cell phone. In seconds they will find out if your finger prints are on file and who you really are. This capability can also be used for identifying an unconscious or incapacitated victim.
In a neighboring jurisdiction police cars are equipped with scanners on the light bars that read license plates as the car patrols the street. The images are automatically run through databases to determine if the license plate numbers are connected with a crime and, if so, will alert the officer.
All this technology allows police departments to do their job more effectively and more accurately than ever before.
With all this equipment the patrol car’s cabin appears to be inundated with displays, switches, microphones, and video equipment. It is a wonder how an officer can still find time to drive with all the potential distractions. For us civilians we know that distracted driving has been highlighted as a leading cause of traffic accidents. As a result many states have legislated how cell phones can be operated in moving vehicles as well as where GPS screens can be mounted. Hands free cell phone kits are mandated and in some states GPS screens cannot be mounted to the windshield. Texting is forbidden.
I asked the officer just how police in patrol cars cope with all the devices that crowd their moving “office”. He said that it was part of the hours of performance driving training that officers take. The training environment is on a closed track, but in a patrol car where radios and lights and sirens are in operation. Basically a lot is “thrown” at the officer in these training sessions just so they can learn how to cope. He related the experience of tunnel vision that occurs early on in this training, and I thought back to my first experiences in high performance driving education (HPDE) and how, as a neophyte, trying to deal with all the inputs and high levels of speed – I also experienced tunnel vision. With the help of my instructor I learned to keep my vision up and out. The officer talked about how the same techniques are taught to them.
Believe it or not, in my forty years as a motor vehicle operator I have been the object of a traffic stop or two. There was a time when it was advisable to pull over and then get out of your car and walk to the officer’s car. Today this is a big no-no.
I asked the officer what he would prefer in terms of behavior if a citizen has to be stopped. He said that the driver should do their best to stay calm and just find a safe place to pull over and then wait in the vehicle with the engine off and the window down. It is not the time to go shuffling through the glove compartment looking for your registration or insurance certificate. To the officer approaching your car that kind of behavior can be interpreted as something they have to be defensively prepared for. Imagine how it might look from their point of view. What is that driver doing? What are they really looking for?
The prudent thing to do is sit there and wait to be asked for the information by the officer.
It is also not the time to start a verbal confrontation with the officer. Remember, it is likely that you are on camera. You don’t have to agree with what the officer feels he has determined, but a heated argument can just dig you a deep hole. We have a court system to determine if you are guilty or not. Just do your best to be civil and honest.