The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that 70 officers died in the line of duty in 2008 traffic-related incidents. For the past decade, traffic-related incidents have been the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among law enforcement officers, surpassing those resulting from gunfire. Driver distraction is a leading cause of these statistics.
As the amount of critical equipment needed inside public safety vehicles has increased, so have the distractions by having to operate those devices and the vehicle at the same time. Mobile data terminals (MDTs) have been deployed to provide officers with a mobile office and give them instant access to critical information. However, essential manual interactions with the MDT take the driver’s eyes off the road and his hands off the wheel. Statistics prove this is a lethal scenario.
Law enforcement driving simulator studies conducted by the University of New Hampshire in 2007 concluded that operating devices by voice was much safer than operating the same devices manually while driving emergency vehicles. Test subjects participating in this study were asked to change the channel on a two-way mobile radio using manual and then voice controls.
The results showed that manual operation of the radio caused significant changes in vehicle speed, steering wheel angle and lane position—any one of which could result in a collision. Manually operating a single device is dangerous under controlled conditions, and it is only magnified in the presence of multiple devices, high rates of speed and adrenaline.
Using voice commands to operate the radio enabled the test subjects to maintain proper speed and lane position. When controlling devices by voice, a vehicle operator is able to focus on the most important task, which is driving. In addition, voice controls improve ergonomics, ensuring compliance with airbag-deployment zones and maximizing useable interior space. 54ward Integrated Solutions
54ward™ Integrated Solutions, with headquarters in Orangeburg, NY, manufactures voice-controlled device integration systems for emergency vehicles. 54ward’s mission is to make law enforcement officers safer and more efficient by providing fully integrated voice-controlled solutions. 54ward’s products deliver functionality and safety by allowing the emergency vehicle operator to keep his eyes on the road and his hands on the wheel.
The CORE™control system from 54ward is a voice-control solution for emergency vehicles. Voice control of emergency lights, siren, two-way radios, radar, cameras, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and other components ensures operator safety while driving. Police Fleet Manager spoke with Vince Palmeri, sales manager, about 54ward’s solutions for today’s public safety vehicles.
The CORE™control solution is made up of three vital parts: CORE™command, CORE™ware and CORE™support. According to Palmeri, each part of the 54ward COREcontrol system addresses a specific gap that exists in emergency vehicle device implementation and operation.
COREcommand is a single-operational platform that allows multiple levels of operation such as voice command, touch screen control, and traditional methods of operation. Customized to an agency’s specific needs, COREcommand interfaces with most devices and third party software while retaining a redundant system of mission-critical devices.
Devices and software supported include emergency lights and sirens; radio and communications; radar; video systems; GPS/AVL; printers; bar code scanners; gun locks; record management (RMS); computer-aided dispatch (CAD); NCIC and motor vehicle query; license plate recognition (LPR); fleet maintenance; and AM/FM or satellite radio.
COREcommand’s Voice Control is a voice-recognition system that provides “hands and eyes free” control of all in-car devices and software applications. The command and control system is completely speaker independent, meaning any user can instantly give voice commands without training the system to recognize particular voices. In addition, the commands can be tailored to match a particular agency’s standard vocabulary.
A push-to-talk button is mounted on the steering wheel or console to allow the driver to control exactly when the system is “listening.” A directional, noise-canceling microphone will operate under any circumstances regardless of the level of the speaker’s voice. 54ward speech-recognition terms are customized to an agency’s existing protocols or SOPs.
54ward’s touch screen control allows the operator a large, clearly visible display by using an existing touch screen computer. The graphical user interface provides status and control of all in-car devices and software applications. With the traditional control, 54ward COREcommand provides a complete and fail-safe solution by maintaining a redundant system of mission-critical device controls inside the vehicle.
The backbone of 54ward COREcontrol, COREware is an engineered system of hardware and electronics that isolates and protects the vehicle and devices from common failures in the field. COREware utilizes electronics, harnesses, circuit protection and enclosures, allowing a fleet manager to make sure every vehicle in his fleet remains functionally and electronically the same no matter who performed the installation of the devices.
Some of COREware’s standard features include 125% capacity SAE J1128 Crimp-Less Plug-N-Play Harness Assembly; Isolated Vehicle Power Distribution System; Complete Internal Diagnostic Electrical Enclosure; Integral PC Protection and Timing Circuits; Waterproof Industrial Grade Connectors; and Protected Power Distribution with Auxiliary Terminals.
The Plug-n-Play Harness Assembly provides electrical uniformity for an agency’s entire fleet, which decreases installation time and increases device reliability. Secured enclosures for trunk and console house all electrical components, protecting them from the elements and any possible tampering.
The custom-built Rear Enclosures allow an agency to integrate all its current equipment into a unified, single component. Three different sizes allow for more internal equipment storage and incorporate a visual diagnostic panel. All enclosures can come fully pre-wired. This eliminates the task of removing and installing all the separate components. It also gets rid of the cutting and splicing of device wiring that repeated installations and removals require.
54ward offers an agency the ability to ship any existing, or new, devices directly to its factory to be pre-wired and mounted inside the enclosure, before installation in the vehicle, for a complete Plug-n-Play solution. In addition, COREware is customizable to an agency’s specifications.
54ward COREsupport provides agencies with different support plans that can be tailored to the specific needs of an agency. Web-based or telephone technical troubleshooting, training, and upgrades, as well as local field support by regional 54ward service personnel are all part of the COREsupport system. 54ward support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Main Screen of the COREcommand system acts as a central hub that provides easy access to all PC applications. This screen allows the operator to switch between all 54ward and third party applications hands and eyes free.
On the Emergency Signal Screen, the user has hands- and eyes-free control of all emergency light and siren functions. This enables the operator to issue a single command such as “pursuit” or “traffic stop” to activate or deactivate multiple light and siren functions. This screen also shows the operator a real-time display of light and siren status.
The Video Screen provides a digital or analog video display directly on the computer screen. It allows hands- and eyes-free control of all camera functions such as play, record, zoom in and focus. Unlimited options for event triggering are available without the need for hardwired connections.
The Record Query Screen enables the officer to enter a license plate number and initiate local, state and NCIC queries using voice commands. The system will display a full response on the screen while also audibly telling the operator all the important information returned. This feature interfaces with most of today’s third party data-query software packages.
The GPS Screen provides a display of an exact vehicle location that can be fed to any AVL, navigation, accident reporting or RMS software. The Patrol Screen is a custom configurable screen that provides a snapshot status of all devices in the car and provides control of all devices from one central screen.
The Radio Control Screen enables the officer to speak the name of the channel he desires without having to press various radio control head buttons, multiple times, to reach the desired channel. This screen also provides a large display that mirrors all radio head functions and status indicators.
The Radar Screen provides a large display of patrol, target and locked speeds. This screen provides hands- and eyes-free control of all radar functions, including turning on or switching between front and rear antenna, locking, and selecting modes of operation.
The Hazardous Material application allows first responders to enter a HazMat placard number or chemical name by voice, keyboard or touch screen, and instantly receive critical information such as explosiveness or handling instructions both visually and audibly.
The latest innovation from 54ward Integrated Solutions, the SimpleCommand™ Voice Box, is designed for existing installations (no tear down of the vehicle required). As with the COREcontrol system, SimpleCommand delivers improved functionality and safety by allowing the vehicle operator to keep his eyes on the road and hands on the wheel at all times, with voice control of emergency lights, radios, radar, cameras, CAD/ RMS.
Palmeri said SimpleCommand is a parallel product to the COREcontrol system, and it is functionally identical to COREcontrol but without all the hardware (enclosure and harness). It is designed to be installed in vehicles that have already been upfitted with aftermarket equipment or are already in service. “The elimination of the hardware allows 54ward to offer the same integration at half the price,” Palmeri explained.
54ward’s new COREcommandBAR™ eliminates the need to cycle through screens to operate all of the various devices and software in the vehicle. This means an officer no longer needs to switch from screen to screen to operate radios, emergency lights, CAD/ RMS, etc.
Regardless of the software a department uses for CAD/RMS, license plate lookups, pre-planning, and Internet, the COREcommandBAR remains fixed at the bottom of the computer screen at all times, allowing complete control and monitoring of the vehicle’s devices regardless of what application is running.
Wireless Push-to-Talk (PTT)
With 54ward’s new Push-to-Talk (PTT) feature, an ergonomic steering wheel-mounted wireless POD, houses the primary HOTKEY for COREcontrol voice commands and additional HOTKEYS that can be programmed for other COREcontrol vehicle device functions. Programmable HOTKEYS allow control of any 54ward command in the vehicle by simply pressing HOTKEY on the steering wheel or dash-mounted PODs.
This feature gives the officer the ability to initiate voice commands; select radar modes; activate radar antennas and lock speeds; adjust two-way radio channels, zones and volume; activate emergency lights and sirens; navigate between multiple software products (CAD, RMS, mapping, etc.).
Glastonbury, CT Police
Like many agencies across the country, the Glastonbury, CT Police’s patrol cars now have more capabilities than ever for video, printers, cell phones, and multiple radio channels. In addition, the state of Connecticut now has a “hands-free” law for using cell phones while driving.
Every time an officer turns on a thermal camera or switches on a light or a siren, “it’s a hand that’s not on the steering wheel,” said Fleet Manager Robin Timmer. Glastonbury took a good look at its cruisers and found that the second leading cause of officer injury and/or death is due to driver distraction.
According to Chief Tom Sweeney, in high-speed chase or crisis situations, “you don’t want an officer’s eyes off the road.” Sweeney also wanted to put all the equipment in the patrol cars with the most efficient use of space. Because of these issues, Glastonbury turned to 54ward for a solution.
Timmer and Sweeney especially liked the fact that 54ward’s COREcontrol system integrates any equipment already in the car to run with voice control. For example, officers have the ability to run license plates by simply speaking the number instead of typing that number into a computer. Officers can keep their eyes on a suspect instead of looking down to type or call. “It is truly a heads-up operation,” Timmer said.
Because Glastonbury was using one of the COREcontrol prototype systems, Sweeney said 54ward worked with them on “getting the bugs out.” According to Sweeney, Project 54 technology was available to agencies in separate modules, but 54ward made it one integrated package. Sweeney also praised 54ward’s technical support as “very responsive” and said there was a “constant dialogue” between them.
Glastonbury does its own upfitting and essentially builds its own cars. 54ward’s Plug-n-Play concept with the wiring harness greatly reduces the upfitting time. Ed Kowalski, Glastonbury’s senior vehicle and equipment maintainer, especially likes that. Everything from the diagnosis to the repair is quicker by eliminating the “hunt and peck” to find out where the problem is because everything plugs into the main box in the trunk of the vehicle. Kowalski calls 54ward’s system a “phenomenal time saver.”
Timmer and Sweeney also said 54ward’s COREcontrol system is not just a voice-operated platform; it goes beyond that, with the three types of usage possible. With the choice of any combination of those, “you still have a working police car, even if one thing goes down,” Timmer said.
According to Timmer, 54ward’s system is the “caveat” to officer safety. Kowalski hasn’t had to do any preventative maintenance or repairs to the 54ward system. In fact, he hasn’t had to touch the wiring harnesses in any of their patrol vehicles in three years. “After working with [54ward] for almost three years, their service and attention to detail is terrific,” Timmer said.
Glastonbury PD currently has 11 cars online with 54ward’s full system (10 Ford Crown Victorias and one Dodge Charger). According to Timmer, the agency plans to install the system on three more cars this year and three next year, which would make the full patrol fleet outfitted with 54ward’s voice-activated solution.
Mahwah, NJ Police
According to Officer Bill Hunt of the Mahwah, NJ Police, each year his agency adds new devices to its patrol vehicles—like speed detection equipment, video cameras and mobile computers—with the purpose of enhancing the performance of officer’s duties. However, the only problem was that the equipment worked great independently, but it had lacked the ability to be linked or activated from a single location.
After using the 54ward COREcontrol system for the past several months, “I can honestly say this technology may be the greatest advancement in emergency vehicle equipment in the last 10 years,” Hunt said. He believes the combined functionality and safety of the 54ward equipment in a society that is becoming increasingly more fast paced and distracted means officers will be able to do their jobs and respond to emergencies while maintaining a higher level of attention to their surroundings.
“As a police officer, volunteer firefighter and a former emergency medical technician, I can see how the practical application of this equipment can assist us in responding to help victims of crime and accidents…and not becoming one,” Hunt said.
Jennifer Gavigan has been writing for LAW and ORDER and Police Fleet Manager magazines for more than five years, providing readers with cutting-edge public safety information. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.