A major problem with today’s police sedans is the lack of interior room. In recent years, we have added more equipment in our cars: expanded communications equipment, computers, radar, light and siren controller, Automated License Plate Recognition, infrared sensors, long guns, less-lethal armament, video cameras, and so on. Over the coming years, we will see even more technology, all of which robs the passenger compartment of needed space.
The situation becomes even worse with agencies who routinely field units with two officers. All this equipment also creates major upfitting issues. For obvious safety reasons, this equipment must be mounted away from airbag deployment zones. Additional safety issues include mounting this equipment in a manner minimizing sharp surfaces to prevent injury to the occupants in the event of a collision. And placing the devices in the trunk may not be a solution since all trunks are getting smaller.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) had traditionally been a leader in developing innovative police vehicles. Vartan Yegiyan, LAPD’s Director of Police Transportation and Sergeant II Daniel Gomez, LAPD’s Tactical Technical Section, are working on solutions. One of their priorities is reducing the interior clutter of their patrol units for officer safety and increased productivity. This is important since two-officer patrol units are the norm, rather than the exception with LAPD.
Over the past couple of years, LAPD set up a Chevrolet Caprice and subsequently, Chevrolet Tahoes as patrol and Area Command Vehicles. Both these types of vehicles have the computer monitor neatly mounted in the center of the dash, well away from the airbag deployment zones and with no sharp brackets or corners to cause injury in the event of a collision. Additionally, the majority of the police electronics are neatly mounted in the rear of the vehicle, freeing up valuable interior room.
With the phasing out of Ford’s Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, LAPD has selected the Dodge Charger to serve as their basic patrol sedan. One of the features of some Chrysler corporation vehicles is UConnect® using a dash-mounted 8.4-inch diagonal measure screen.
Chrysler engineers approached LAPD on the feasibility of combining the retail vehicle’s in-dash display with a law enforcement computer/communication system. LAPD immediately jumped at the opportunity. One of LAPD’s upfitted Dodge Chargers was quickly shipped back to Michigan for Chrysler engineering to work out interfacing Chrysler’s retail UConnect system with LAPD’s communications gear.
One of the major problems discovered on the onset of this project was that the standard 8.4-inch screen is too small for the working police officer to be able to read clearly, especially under stressful situations. Chrysler then commissioned Continental Engineering Systems (CES) to develop a larger screen to replace the retail screen.
To meet law enforcement demands, CES came up with a larger screen, measuring 9.8 inches tall by 7.4 inches wide. That makes for a 12.1-inch diagonal measure touchscreen. This larger screen was then neatly fitted into the center of the dash, so both the driver and passenger officer can have a clear and unobstructed view of the display. Being an in-dash display, it is well out of the way in the event of an airbag deployment. The display is mounted as close to the top of the dashboard as feasible, so the driver can transition from viewing the roadway to the screen and back without unnecessary eye movement.
Of interest, and perhaps controversy, at this point in the development, there is no tilt feature to the touchscreen. The LAPD does not believe it is necessary to tilt the screen since the screen is large enough. However, the Charger will undergo field-testing under actual “street” conditions with working police officers. If the lack of a tilt becomes a problem, LAPD and/or Chrysler will address it.
The icons typically used while the vehicle is moving are at the top of the screen, i.e., controls for emergency lights and siren, voice communication controls, GPS navigation, Computer-Aided Dispatch, infrared sensor, Automatic License Plate Recognition, and the main menu selections. This keeps the eyes up and closer to seeing the road. The icons used while the vehicle is parked are at the bottom of the screen, i.e., want and warrant information, report-writing, text communications, Internet, in-car video cameras, electronic subpoena service, and e-mail. The eyes looking down lower are not as much of an issue while the vehicle is parked.
Partly in compliance with state requirements that forbid civilians to view restricted criminal justice information, as well as good police practices, the information can be covered by use of the screen saver, or the screen can be instantly “blacked out,” preventing rear seat “guests” and other unauthorized personnel from viewing this information or for officer safety during a night-time tactical situation.
The Charger’s screen is mounted in a “portrait” (vertical) mounting position, contrary to the majority of law enforcement in-car displays and laptops, which are in the “landscape” (horizontal) position. Chrysler engineers have successfully adapted the portrait screen to work with the landscape software. (Of course, every iPhone and iPad does exactly that.) If this type of in-dash display sees widespread police use, we will certainly see more portrait software from the mobile computing companies.
In spite of its super-clean appearance and clutter-free upfit, the Big Screen is not a computer. It is simply a massive display in portrait format. All of the computing power comes from the police department’s own laptop in the trunk. The same with all of the touch-button light, siren and radio controls. While LAPD disconnects the factory AM/FM broadcast band radio, along with a few other unneeded functions, this screen can control or access certain vehicle functions such as the HVAC controls.
After the Chrysler engineers were finished, the Charger was then shipped back to the West Coast and put on display at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in San Diego. Response to this system was extremely positive. Those who couldn’t attend the IACP are directed to contact LAPD directly.
LAPD does its own upfitting. However, with budgets still being slim and the mandate to “do more with less,” LAPD is now purchasing vehicles with police “prep packages” to meet department needs and standardize the complicated process of upfitting. Yegiyan stresses LAPD is (equipment) “manufacturer agnostic,” meaning they are free to choose the equipment which best suits the needs of LAPD. Thus, the center console is specially manufactured to LAPD’s specification by Havis.
This custom console is designed as low as possible to prevent occupant injuries in case of a side-impact collision. The low center console also poses less of an obstacle in case an officer needs to quickly dive from one side of the vehicle to the other in a tactical situation. The computer keyboard can be moved side-to-side, and is magnetically secured at the front of the console when it is not in use. It can also be pulled away from the console and utilized by either officer if need be. Radio controls are mounted in the rear of the console as are 12-volt power outlets and USB ports allowing the officers to recharge their personal electronic devices such as cell phones.
Mounted in front of the security cage are the long-gun racks for the shotgun and patrol rifle. Also mounted in this area are flashlight chargers for the officer’s rechargeable flashlights. Like the charging facilities for personal electronics, these little touches help to improve officer morale. Better morale also reduces vehicle and equipment abuse.
With approximately 10,000 sworn members of the Los Angeles Police Department, LAPD strives to uniformly equip their vehicles; thus, an officer from Northeast Division and jump into a Harbor Division vehicle and all the important controls will be placed and operate identically.
Most of the police electronics are neatly stored in a roll-out tray in the trunk. If repairs or maintenance is needed, the tray can be rolled out and the defective module can be quickly replaced and the vehicle placed back in service. For more trunk interior room, LAPD removed the spare tires.
Currently, there are three vehicles set up with this combined LAPD/Chrysler UConnect® system. Two vehicles are marked LAPD black-and white sedans, one being a demonstrator and the other will be sent out to the field for real-world street testing. The third Charger is unmarked and remains with Chrysler for additional evaluation and testing by Chrysler engineering.
John Bellah is the technical editor of Police Fleet Manager and a retired corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.