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Repurposing: Inexpensive Mobile Command Centers?

Written by William Kushner

Law enforcement has changed dramatically in the past 34 years. Squad cars have literally become mini police stations, complete with computers, printers, radar and video cameras. Management of major events and critical incidents has moved from the top of the trunk of the supervisor’s car to Mobile Command Centers (MCC).

New, custom-built MCCs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If your community is in great financial shape, and willing to invest that much, you may be able to contract with one of the many manufacturers out there and custom design your very own highly visible, special purpose MCC.

You can option them with flat screen TVs, video cameras and microwave transmission systems, as well as enough radio equipment to talk to everyone in the continental United States. Also, let’s not forget the creature comforts, such as couches, command consoles and environmental controls.

The harsh reality is that your chief probably has been asked to cut 15% from the budget and there are no funds for an MMC. In such times, it makes sense to look into acquiring an old vehicle (bread truck, ambulance, old MCC) and transform it into your very own MCC. Take it from me, this is a good idea. Been there, done that.

We were running a lot of roadside safety missions and saw the need for an MCC. The city council liked the concept, but balked at funding. We had already obtained an old bread truck from a large regional bakery and had successfully transformed it into a response vehicle for our Emergency Response Team. Converting something into an MCC should be a snap, right?

I learned that the largest police department in the state was going to dispose of its old MCC. I thought I knew this rig. It had 32,000 miles on it. I thought that it was structurally sound and ran well. A few phone calls, a formal letter requesting that it be donated to my department, a few minutes in front of various city councils, and my Department became the proud owner of a 1986 Airstream 32-foot MCC.

We had a citizen who donated the paint and labor for the exterior. Everything was going well. We started to design (to repurpose) the interior. The vehicle had been stripped of the electrical equipment that had been installed years ago. Wires lay everywhere, breaker panels were ripped from the mounts and switches were dangling from walls. Only then did we start to take a very serious look at the project as a whole.

This MCC had been built, against the recommendations of the committee that designed it, with a bathroom—a bathroom with inadequate ventilation. The rig had sat unused for a long time, and the last driver of the vehicle had neglected to pump out the waste water tanks. Now we had to deal with a potential biohazard.

In addition, we found that the heating systems, powered by a 100-pound propane tank, had serious safety issues. The generators were inoperable, and needed replacement. Our low cost, MCC was quickly becoming a money pit. It was becoming crystal clear that the cost of repurposing or modernizing this vehicle was quickly becoming cost prohibitive. The project fell dormant because of lack of funds.

The police officers who came before us handled the most serious of matters from the trunk lids of cars, or from the home of citizens. The most important asset we have is our personnel and skills, and our ability to effectively utilize the technology at hand. That said, while a clear place for the MCC exists, it is not clear that the best way is to do it yourself. Go the grant route. Go to the vehicle professionals. Do it the right way, or don't do it at all.

Chief William Kushner is a 34-year veteran of law enforcement and currently serves as chief of police in Lakemoor, Ill. He is certified chief of police as registered with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2011

Rating : 6.8


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