The Age of the Police Car Platform
Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA
The mobile office is
on its way out. In the near future, the only way to describe a police car will
be as a platform. A platform is a combination of technologies with real-world
applications. Thinking of your police car as a platform gives us a foundation
from which to explore your cars future. It wont 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. More importantly, the Police
Vehicle Platform (PVP) will significantly enhance your safety and ability to
conduct law enforcement operations.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 wont be very long
before a police officers PVP will be constantly reporting the officers
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.
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 wont 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.
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
un-intrusive 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
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
The mobile office is
fading into history. Tomorrows police vehicle will be an integration of
technologies and databases that work with the police officer. It will be the
Patrol Vehicle Platform.