Gear still shaky but out on the streets

Photo by Ron Leir/ Det. Gary Souss checks out a new computer installed in one of seven new Belleville Police patrol cars.

 By Ron Leir

BELLEVILLE – At last, they’re on the road.
The township’s seven new police patrol cars are rolling but their path from the shop to the police garage to the asphalt hit a few detours on the way.
It’s not so much the vehicles themselves but the equipment they’re carrying.
Police Chief Joseph P. Rotonda said the seven Crown Victorias – acquired under
a 3-year lease for $77,441 per year as replacements for 2008 models, some with more than 100,000 miles logged – were put into service the week of Nov. 20.
But, Rotonda noted, “we’re still having some issues with some of the new digital cameras and computers – the electric system.” Township IT personnel are checking with Verizon and other companies involved in the instrumentation trying to remedy the problem, he said.
“It’s like any new equipment,” the chief said. “You’ve got to work out the kinks.”
Those “kinks” began showing up when vendors began outfitting the new cars with
the telecommunications gear, according to Police Capt. Victor Mesce of the department’s Special Services unit and Det. Gary Souss of the Administration and
Planning unit.
The township authorized purchase of the vehicles in 2010 and followed up with a bond
ordinance in June 2011 authorizing spending $163,000 for the acquisition and installation of cameras, computers and radios for the Police Department and labor, $41,000 for the acquisition and installation of computer software upgrades and other
security cameras, $12,000 for the acquisition and installation of two computer servers for the Police Department and $84,000 for sport utility vehicles for the department.
After the bond passed and the equipment was ordered, police had to wait three months just to get the new radios from Motorola because the vendor had to tailor them to the department’s specifications, Det. Souss said.
Then, once the vendors began to install the electronic gear in the new cars, the electrical problems began, he said. L-3 Mobile Vision hooked up the computers and cameras to the cars’ center consoles and placed the computer software trays in the cars’ trunks while Royal Communications, a Motorola distributor, installed the radios.
Somewhere in the mix, batteries were shorted out, triggering the disruption, Sous said.
The new cameras are designed to activate automatically if the car is exceeding a certain speed and/or if the officers inside pull out a rifle or shotgun from the car’s gunrack. The video of an incident tracked by the camera can end up being valuable evidence for a future court case, Capt. Mesce noted.
Because of the way the new cars were built, it was decided to relocate the police radio
speaker because, otherwise, when an officer entered the car, he might inadvertently kick and/or dislodge it from the more cramped floorboard, Mesce and Souss explained.
Another delay came about, they said, when it was discovered that the new cars were
also too narrow to accommodate the wire mesh “cages” designed to confine prisoners
in the rear seats so the department couldn’t simply transfer the cages from the old cars to the new. So new cages had to be acquired.
And, of course, the department had to “detail” the cars, painting on official police lettering and striping on the vehicles’ exteriors, all of which took time.
The department decided to add a new touch on the new cars: the phone number for the public to call for police assistance. It is 973-450-3333.
Putting out that additional information was considered a key reminder for the public “to keep (the emergency) 911 open for real emergencies. It could save someone’s life by not tieing up the 911 operator,” Capt. Mesce said.
When all the moving parts were more or less accounted for, the department then rotated its members for training in the new cars and that took about two weeks to accomplish.
Now the department is hoping it can squeeze at least three years of useful activity from the new vehicles – the normal life expectancy for a patrol car – which, Mesce notes, is a tough road to go down since every police vehicle is operating 24/7 with virtually no “down” time and is operated, typically, by seven or eight different drivers, each with different driving habits.

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