10-43: Be Advised...
with Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief
Kentucky cops stay safe with new mobile app
Changing light bars and signals remotely helps keep La Grange officers on the scene, not in their cars
During IACP 2013, I briefly visited the Code 3 booth. My original intent was to see their new Solex light bars, but my attention was quickly diverted to a demonstration being done on the company’s new mobile phone application, vLink.
Admittedly, I’d been skeptical about a product claiming to remotely control vehicle lights, sirens, locks, and ignition system from a smartphone positioned a football field away. “Why would you even need that?” I’d said. Upon seeing it up close and personal, I realized that the rationale for the app is far more interesting than I’d ever imagined.
I was sufficiently impressed that upon returning from Philadelphia I asked my friend Tim Dees to write a column on the product, which I encourage you to read here. I also — with the help of the folks from Code 3 — sought to learn how one of their “early-adopting” customers is using the system.
Keeping Peace in Kentucky
La Grange (Ky.) Police Department is probably like just about any other agency in rural America. About 8,000 citizens live on streets named Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Washington. A railroad track runs parallel to Main Street, and a busy interstate skirts the south end of town.
I happened to visit La Grange back in the mid-1980s, and although I never did an official count, my memory is that it’s the kind of place where churches just might outnumber bars.
By all accounts, it’s a nice place to live, and a good place for the 13 sworn officers of La Grange PD to patrol “horse country” about a half hour northeast of the world capital of horse racing.
Like every department in the country, La Grange officers keep their office hours in their cars. No matter what the situation is, La Grange officers are almost always close to their vehicles.
“Our vehicles are our centers of operation. We use them to respond to calls, to monitor situations, for communication, for protection, and as a tool to control traffic,” said La Grange Police Chief Kevin Collett.
From experience, Chief Collett knows that there are times his officers need to return to their vehicles to retrieve items for the situation at hand or even something as simple as adjusting their lights and sirens.
It was with this knowledge that Chief Collett — always on the lookout for technologies that make his officers safer and more successful — discovered and saw value in vLink from Code 3.
Keeping It Super Simple
The vLink solution from Code 3 is actually pretty simple: The hardware is a control unit that sits in the back deck of a sedan or is mounted in an SUV so the antenna can be seen through a window. This control unit communicates with the app on the officer’s smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
Familiar touch screen controls enable remote operation of the vehicle’s sirens and air horn, dimming the light bar, controlling takedown/alley lights, and even releasing the gunlock.
The officers found that they could control many vehicle features from up to 300 feet away, depending on the smartphone’s wireless capacity. There were several features they found very useful. vLink does not require the Internet to operate, so it’s easy to set up and use.
It emulates in-car controls, so pressing a button on the screen is the same as hitting that button on the siren control head. For vehicles that use Code 3 sirens — specifically the Z3 and the RLS units —the buttons on the siren control head are set exactly the way the officer selected them remotely.
“What we really appreciated about vLink is that it allowed ours officers a greater degree of situational control,” Collett said. “The officers found many uses for controlling vehicle functions remotely that really improved their overall performance.”
Keeping Officers Safe
Like any similarly sized and situated department, La Grange PD works closely with other agencies in the area — in this case, the Oldham County Sheriff’s Office — and finds efficiencies in using the same (or at least compatible) technology. This is precisely what happened when Chief Collett discovered vLink from Code 3.
Officers from both the La Grange PD and the Oldham County Sheriff’s Office began using the wireless remote control, and all seemed to have good experiences with it.
Oldham County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Fitzner said, “vLink is a fantastic tool that allows us to do so much without going back to the car.” Fitzner has a spot on his duty belt that allows him to access his smartphone quickly. He finds accessing vLink a lot easier than going back to his car to control different devices.
One of the best uses of vLink occurs with traffic control. When an officer is away from his vehicle directing traffic at an accident scene, they can remotely control the vehicle lighting without leaving their position.
“This allows them to do their job more efficiently and increases their safety on the road,” said Chief Collett.
“There are numerous officers killed each year when they’re standing outside directing traffic. It’s a real danger police officers face every single day, and it’s in the back of their minds all of the time. Having a tool like vLink gives our officers a little bit of peace of mind.”
Oldham County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Meece started using vLink in emergency medical situations to alert an oncoming EMS unit to his exact location. By changing his light bar remotely from dim mode to full strength, he was able to quickly alert EMS to his exact location. This also allowed him to stay with the patient so that he could support them in the emergency situation.
“From being out on an interstate with an accident to being in a home in an emergency, where you need to more readily respond, it’s like having a second set of hands,” Deputy Meece said.