Law enforcement vehicles go high tech

Australian equipment supplier National Safety Agency is pushing what it calls the 'Next Generation Enforcement Vehicle'

Australian motorists are about to experience the full impact of a whole range of new, computerised electronic law enforcement technology — and some of it will be highly visible highway patrol car equipment.

Other aspects will be hidden in background control rooms tracking traffic patrols, or checking chain of custody procedures for masses of video imagery and evidential metadata.

Think automatic number plate recognition at a rate of 10,000 in an hour, emergency vehicle priority at traffic light intersections and short duration obtrusive sirens to alert unheeding headphone wearers at intersections.

Add drone sensor technology for unmanned overhead patrol flights, positional data from GPS, Galileo and GLONASS navigation satellites, satellite vehicle tracking, ruggedised keyboards, intelligent vehicle power management plus thermal-imaging for low light, fog or smoke and you’re looking at next generation law enforcement vehicles.

An estimated 96 different law enforcement, security and emergency services agencies in Australia are potential candidates for these new highly capable vehicles.

One problem for government treasuries and finance departments is that the extra cost of all these systems is pushing purchase costs for individual law enforcement vehicles through the roof.

A fully kitted out car could have a unit cost comfortably north of at least $140,000. One solution — or at any rate, a way of cutting back on the sticker shock to some extent — is being proposed by a Melbourne-based not-for-profit law enforcement and emergency services supplier, National Safety Agency.

In existence now for 11 years, NSA, based at Tullamarine near Melbourne’s airport, is not to be confused with its almost 90-year-old sound-alike, the National Safety Council of Australia.

NSA supplies equipment, services and training for public safety agencies (police, fire brigades, ambulance, emergency services).

With local car manufacturing ceasing, Australian police forces have been trying out a wide range of reasonably large imported vehicles.

The vehicle electronics offering from NSA is an integrated computerised package designed to suit whatever make gets the nod from individual police or emergency services commands. Economies of scale, prior integration and bulk purchase, could produce savings of up to 40 per cent on the computing, video and electronics module.

That could cut the final all-up cost for vehicle and package to around $100,000 or so per unit.

The consolidated design reduces clutter in the vehicle cabin space. A key feature is a 12.1-inch sunlight-readable LCD touchscreen embedded in the centre of the dashboard, where it is accessible to both occupants of the front seat, to operate all the equipment in the car.

An aluminium technology tray fits neatly into the boot, still leaving room for a mandatory full-size spare tyre, weaponry and luggage.

There is a complementary web-based interface called NSAeIntel, billed as an all-encompassing back-end solution for accessing information, managing physical resources and creating useable reports.

There is on-the-go downloading of data processing streams to the cloud during a vehicle’s operational shift.

Graphical reports help keep track of location, performance and technical status of fleet vehicles. System diagnostics report when servicing is needed, reducing the need for physical inspections. Software updates can be installed on the fly while the vehicle is on the road.

Supervisors will be able to follow and trace each enforcement vehicle’s route and see enforcement activities being conducted through the in-car video and audio, through a data or cellular network connection. Peak times and the frequency and location of offences can be quickly determined.

“We’ve built some of the most advanced intelligence tools,” says NSA chairperson Des Bahr. “My view is that there’s nothing like this anywhere else in Australia.”

At meetings and presentations being held at Tullamarine over the next few months, invitees from all state and territory police forces, the Australian Federal Police, Border Protection, emergency services personnel and senior law enforcement people from the US are receiving practical demonstrations of the attractions of the new computerised electronic enforcement technology.

Police commands are increasingly installing in-car video units, which deliver an objective record in contentious circumstances and supply useful backup information for report processing, selection of evidence and preparation of court material.

An always-on endless video loop can store data for 30 seconds. If the main video unit is off but gets switched on to record some developing event, the prior 30 seconds can be added at the front of the video to show what motivated an officer to hit the record button.

Video streams and files are highly data intensive, so the proposed electronic modules have to be provided with effective data transmission and data storage systems in police stations, court houses and corollary law enforcement centres.

In addition to fixed in-car video, Australian police are progressively adopting the use of body-worn video cameras. Handling of evidence is greatly facilitated if this data can be linked for date, time of day, location and associated patrol car number.

NSA has upgraded its electronic equipment module to provide synchronisation of the data streams from the two lots of cameras, much as computer suppliers provide synching between desktops, tablets and smartphones.

Police cars are normally stripped back to civilian format and traded in after one to three years, depending on intensity of use and distance covered. Designed for inexpensive and easy removal, the NSA electronic package can be transferred to a new vehicle for continued service.

Given the speed at which computing and data processing equipment evolves, this might entail updating some components before re-installing the electronics module for its next spell of duty.

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