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December 08, 2005
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The age of the patrol vehicle platform

By Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, MPA

The mobile office is on its way out. In the near future, the only way to describe a police vehicle will be as a platform.

A platform is a combination of technologies with real-world applications. Thinking of your patrol car as a platform gives us a foundation from which to explore your vehicle's future. It won't just be your office, it will be another set of senses, operating independent of you, and providing you with real-time information on the world around you.

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More importantly, the Patrol Vehicle Platform (PVP) will significantly enhance your safety and ability to conduct law enforcement operations.

Very small partners for safety

Nanotechnology is a combination of scientific and engineering advances that allow the design, fabrication and manufacture of products at the molecular level. As this field becomes increasingly more cost-efficient a variety of law enforcement uses will be available. For instance, developments in nanotechnology will change the threat protection level of vehicle ballistic panels and even your personal body armor

Nanotechnology can create material that has the weight of plastic but is more than sixty times stronger than steel. Furthermore, material produced at the molecular level can be given a number of "smart" features. It will be possible to design the outer body of your police vehicle to not only weigh less and provide more protection, but it will be somewhat "smart."

As an example, if a bullet was fired at your police vehicle the nanotechnology would "sense" the impact and be able to react quickly enough to re-arrange itself to maximizes protection and the deflection and energy absorption factors. These developments will also find their way into your soft-body armor. In the future, the way your current body armor distributes the energy from a bullet will be considered "dumb" when compared with the ability of armor produced through nano-manufacturing.

Further over the horizon is duty uniforms with protection of today's ceramic plates.

Heads Up!

Most of the technological advancements in the future will be difficult for the patrol officer to manage with a new way of receiving information. The military solved some of the human problem of receiving, processing and managing information by providing pilots with "Heads Up Display" (HUD) technology.

There are a number of police vehicles with rudimentary forms HUD technology being tested. Essentially, a limited amount of information about your vehicle (particularly speed) and some information from your current mobile computer are displayed on the interior of the police vehicle windshield. Typically, this information is being displayed near the top portion of the windshield, in the area that usually has additional tinting.

However, today's experimental vehicles are very simple versions of tomorrow. By combining a number of technologies, the PVP will have to provide the police officer with additional information about the surroundings such as best travel routes to calls for service and targeting information. Yes, you will some day get targeting information. But, before we explore Offender Targeting Technology (OTT), we have to understand a few more advances and components.

They know where you are

Many agencies have implemented Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) technology. There are basically three types: Independent systems using radio frequency detection and finding, systems based on cellular telephone technology and systems based on Global Positioning Satellites (GPS). The first two are considered "ground based" whereas GPS obviously uses satellites in orbit around the globe. All three systems have their advantages and disadvantages.

However, when GPS is combined with a ground based system it becomes extremely accurate and can provide near real-time information on your vehicle and objects or people around you. Some States are considering a requirement that registered sex offenders wear GPS linked "bracelets." How long do you think it will be before we consider making those on parole, probation and offenders convicted of certain crimes where a bracelet?

It won't be very long before a police officer's PVP will be constantly reporting the officer's location and monitoring the environment. Probably through a central communications dispatch center, the PVP will be constantly comparing its location against the current, real-time, location of sex offenders, parolees and persons on probation.

Like many other computers that monitor problems for people, the PVP will probably have some threshold wherein the officer is notified. For instance, it may be set to notify a nearby patrol vehicle whenever two or more GPS monitored offenders are in close proximity to each other. Or, perhaps, it will alert the police officer whenever a sex offender is near a school.

It may just be an HUD displayed map that shows GPS monitored offenders in the vicinity of your PVP. Furthermore, there will likely be some data threshold that not only reports the location of the offender, but as your PVP moves closer it will decide to give you data on the offender. Perhaps, his or her photograph, trait information and conditions of registration, parole or probation will be displayed. Essentially, the PVP is providing you with targeting information.

Scanning the environment

There are several experiments being conducted on Optical License Plate Reading (OLPR) technology installed in police vehicles. In fact, there are several types of OLPR that are in use for parking and access control. This technology is beginning to be widely used in the private sector.

The technology uses Optical Character Recognition technology to scan license plates and then query a database. In the relatively near future, your PVP will also scan your environment and run licenses plates. You won't realize this is going on until your PVP locates a stolen vehicle and provides you with the targeting information. Of course, your PVP will likely notify your dispatch center and other nearby PVPs that you have a felony situation.

In the more distant future, your PVP will be equipped with Facial Recognition Technology (FRT). There have been a number of experiments by law enforcement with FRT. Indeed, FRT is used regularly by casinos in locating and tracking undesirable patrons. However, there a number of technical challenges to the full information in the field.

But, someday, your PVP will scan for GPS signals, license plates and the faces of people you pass. As with OLPR, the scans will be compared against a central database and you will be provided with information concerning wanted persons, or perhaps those on probation who are not required to wear a GPS bracelet. In fact, the FRT technology may alert your PVP that it has just scanned a face that should be wearing GPS technology. Clearly, a lot of information to process, manage and act on.

Up close scanning

There are police department that are experimenting with fingerprint scanning in the field. The police officer carries a very small, hand-held device that is used scan the offenders print, send it to and compare it against a central database.

According to a police officer in Ontario, California, where this technology has been used, "The gang members know we have the device and when we put it out they just give up their real name." Personal scanning devices will create Fourth Amendment and officer safety issues. Whereas scanning a license plate is fairly unintrusive and the court is likely to hold that routine OLPR is Constitutional, fingerprint scanning requires a detention and the touching of a person.

Again, not very intrusive, but if you are going to use the scanner it is probably because the offender does not have proper identification. And, they know if they are wanted and you don't. Are you going to search them for weapons before you stand within arms length and scan them? Fingerprint scanning is going to require that police officers develop and articulate reasonable suspicion and that they employ certain tactics (like searching) in order to maintain safety.

Watching you, watching them, watching you watching them

Your PVP is going to become more adept and watching you and recording your actions. Currently, digital recording devices record only that information taking place in a set camera frame. As the technology becomes better, small and cheaper, it is likely that your PVP will direct your digital recording system to track the small microphone you are wearing. Indeed, your PVP may have several small cameras. It may track you, continue to watch the offender and of course, scan your environment.

As your digital camera gets smarter it is not difficult to envision technology that watches the traffic violators vehicle while you issue the citation. If they get out, it may alert you. Indeed, your PVP may be developed to point wherein certain actions (data thresholds) cause your PVP to call for back-up. For instance, maybe the drawing of your firearm, an increase in your heart rate, or your position (on the ground) may cause your PVP to request back-up.

The mobile office is fading into history. Tomorrow's police vehicle will be an integration of technologies and databases that work with the police officer. It will be the Patrol Vehicle Platform.



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