By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer
rom simple tweaks to major reinventions, transportation is evolving. Transportation for the law enforcement and public safety communities is no exception. New vehicle designs and features are helping to keep officers safer on the road and in the field and addressing more universal needs like better fuel economy.
|Note: Police Chief magazine, from time-to-time, offers feature-length articles on products and services that are useful to law enforcement administrators. This article features transportation. |
“There’s a lot more technology,” said Steve Contarino, vice president at Adamson Industries, a Massachusetts company dedicated to public safety vehicle installation and design. “As times change, the different missions of law enforcement change. We have vehicles now that can keep officers safer than we ever could before. There are safer structures in the vehicles themselves. We’re working toward using those technologies.”1
Many transportation advancements focus first and foremost on improving the safety of an officer’s day-to-day life. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 40 officers lost their lives in 2012 as a result of auto crashes or being struck by a vehicle.2 These two categories account for more officer deaths than any other, including shootings.
With this statistic in mind, it should come as no surprise that officers are concerned about their safety while on the roadside. According to a recent online survey of law enforcement officers conducted by MPH Industries, a Kentucky business providing radar, signage, and similar products for the public safety sector, approximately 80 percent of respondents indicated they were “very concerned” about safety on the road outside their vehicle.
“We constantly hear how officers are worried when they’re out on the roadside doing traffic stops,” said John Broxon, the international sales manager of MPH Industries. “Officers are getting injured or even dying on the roadside. They’re being clipped by mirrors. It’s astounding.”3
Several products are available to help officers increase awareness of their surroundings in a traffic-stop situation. This allows officers to keep their focus on the subject of the stop, while worrying less about on oncoming vehicles.
“They don’t know what they’re walking up on,” Broxon said. “They have to not pay attention to the road, and this helps fill that gap.”
To keep officers safe during traffic stops, MPH created SafetyZone, an officer safety alert mechanism that activates an audible warning to alert officers to high-speed vehicles approaching from behind their patrol vehicle while the officer is standing on or near the roadway. SafetyZone is part of Ranger EZ, MPH’s ranging directional traffic radar.
“With this we can help them set up a zone of protection,” Broxon said. “We can set the alert distance to something that makes sense. It also doesn’t get contaminated with false alarms.”
Another example is a new light array system that travels the length of the vehicle. Masterminded by Adamson Industries, the array improves the visibility of the vehicle and serves as “a warning to the public that it needs to slow down,” Contarino said. Lights around the license plate can also prevent rear-end collisions, Contarino added.
Companies like OnStar and Illinois-based MacNeil Automotive Products also offer products and services designed to make transportation safer.
Seemingly simple structural adjustments can make a big difference in the functionality of the vehicle.
“We’re creating doors that open wider to help officers and any prisoners get in and out more easily,” Contarino said. “We have seats that have weapons cut-outs. And new frames are better protected
from side impact.”
“New innovations for weapons storage is a much-desired feature for transportation these days,” Contarino said. Adamson has created a weapons box for police vehicles, which can be opened
remotely using a key fob.
“After the tragedy in Connecticut, many agencies are wanting to add extra weapons to their vehicles,” Contarino said. “The key fob weapons box is a new way to secure weapons.”
Of course, law enforcement and public safety agencies wrestle with the same challenges—if on a far larger scale—than any vehicle owner. With gas prices on the rise, fuel efficiency is becoming a
larger concern. Some companies and law enforcement departments are employing a range of strategies to address the issue.
In New York City, the New York Police Department (NYPD) is phasing in hybrid vehicles. According to Robert S. Martinez, executive director of the NYPD Support Services Bureau, the NYPD now has 1,000 hybrid vehicles in its 8,300-vehicle fleet, with plans to increase that percentage in the coming months and years. The increase makes sense when considering the move saved the department $1 million in fuel costs in 2011.
“The vehicles operate like any other. The driver can’t even tell the difference,” Martinez said. “They’re happy to have a car that’s reliable and runs well. It’s quieter, there’s less fatigue on the driver, and they’re not breathing diesel fumes all day.”4
Though Martinez indicated Ford and Chevy both have plans to release a full-fledged hybrid police cruiser in the future, for the moment the hybrid fleet is confined to administrative vehicles, traffic enforcement cars, and electric scooters. Hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion, GMC Yukon, and Nissan Altima, as well as the hybrid Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius, all are included in the fleet, Martinez said.
In addition to the fuel savings, Martinez said the maintenance needs for a hybrid are about half that of their traditional counterparts. In some situations, the quieter electric engines can even provide officers with a strategic advantage.
“A cop on a scooter in Central Park can just come up on somebody breaking the law, and the person doesn’t even know they’re there,” Martinez said.
There are other ways to improve fuel economy that are tailored to the unique circumstances and demands of law enforcement. Adamson Industries’ solution is a tool that automatically turns the car on and off in idling situations.
“If a vehicle is sitting on the side of the road and gets too hot it would start on its own to keep the officer cool or warm,” Contarino said. “And it will shut off in idle situations. It’s surprising how much fuel is used sitting idle.”
According to Contarino, police vehicles equipped with this tool save an average of six gallons of fuel during an eight-hour period.
“At $4 a gallon,” Contarino said. “That’s pretty significant.”♦
1Steve Contarino, phone interview with the author, April 18, 2013.
2“Causes of Law Enforcement Deaths,” National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/causes.html (accessed April 30, 2013).
3John Broxon, phone interview with the author, April 19, 2013.
4Robert S. Martinez, phone interview with the author, April 24, 2013.
Please cite as:
Scott Harris, "Transportation," Product Feature, The Police Chief 80 (July 2013): 56–58.