2022 isn’t likely to be remembered as a great year for law enforcement. Recruiting is more difficult than ever, staffing levels are down nationwide, the courts seem to be making it easier to sue and prosecute cops, and we’re still losing more officers to suicide than to criminal assaults.
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Is there any good news? Yes. Technology has gotten better and might even compensate in part for having to do an increasingly difficult job with increasingly fewer people. Here are some of the innovations that made the news this year.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are slowly making their way into the police marketplace. The Fremont (California) PD, conveniently co-located in the same city as Tesla’s assembly plant, has two Tesla EVs in its fleet, plus another 40 hybrid or electric Ford Fusions and Explorers, Chrysler Pacifica hybrids and Toyota Priuses.
The Teslas can run one to two patrol shifts before needing to be recharged. The 2022 Tesla Model Y has a top speed of 155 MPH and goes from 0-60 MPH in 4.79 seconds. A 2023 Ford Interceptor Utility needs almost 8 seconds to get to 60 and tops out at around 136 MPH. A Fremont PD Tesla did make national news when it came close to running out of battery during a pursuit, but I’ve known some cops driving conventional cars who ran the tank dry, too. The Teslas use zero gasoline, go longer between brake jobs because of regenerative braking (decelerating the car sends a charge to the battery), and require less maintenance overall. FPD’s experience has been positive overall, and they look forward to expanding their EV fleet.
The police vehicle evaluations done annually by the Michigan State Police included several hybrid powerplants and one EV in the 2023 models they tested. The EV was the Ford Mustang Mach-E AWD, which took on average 3.93 seconds to go from 0-60, and topped out at 122 MPH. It’s interesting to note that this was the only sedan Ford sent for testing. There were three flavors of Ford Interceptor Utility and an F-150 pickup truck variant, but the rebadged Taurus/Police Interceptor was nowhere in sight. Police agencies have come to favor the sport utility vehicle for patrol use, providing more interior room for people and gear, and a higher seating position for better visibility.
It has to be said that EVs are controversial on many levels. They require massive batteries that depend on a steady supply of lithium and other elements whose mining often produces hazardous waste and victimizes exploited laborers. The electrical power grid is at or near capacity in some areas, and large-scale charging of EVs could push the grid past the tipping point to failure. Many fire service agencies lack the equipment or training to handle EV fires. Despite these issues, EV owners tend to be evangelistic about their cars, swearing they will never touch another gas pump. The EVs seem to be winning the public image wars.
Police1 resource: Debunking the top 10 electric vehicle myths in law enforcement
Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that has been a long time coming. VR was a theme for several science fiction TV shows and movies as early as the 1990s, but the computer horsepower required to run it was generally beyond the capabilities of machines running in homes and most businesses. Eighteen-year-old Palmer Luckey produced a prototype of the Oculus Rift VR headset in his parents’ garage in 2011, and it quickly caught the attention of tech entrepreneurs. The first consumer version shipped in 2016. Oculus is now in its third generation, with a model dubbed the Oculus Quest. It’s owned by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, and inventor Luckey was fired from the company for reasons that are in dispute.
VR is an immersive format. Put on a VR headset, and you are in a different world. Look up, down, to each side and behind you, and you see more of the world of the simulation creator. Stereo earphones embedded in the headset produce directional, spatial-environment sounds. Your hands, tracked by the system to match the simulation, might hold a firearm or a sword that moves as you do. You can be on a city street or soaring through space.
Older models of the Oculus Rift and other VR platforms were tethered by a cable to a desktop computer, but the more recent models are untethered, providing greater freedom of movement. The setup provides for establishing physical boundaries that appear as a grid if the user gets too close to them, in order to limit activity area.
Any real or unreal environment can be created and modified to the user’s needs. The pricier VR platforms are around $5,000, with very capable models in the $400-$500 range, although you’ll still need a high-spec personal computer (~$1,500+) to run them. This technology is only going to get better.
Police1 resource: Beyond shoot-don’t shoot: The role of VR in police training and community policing
The BolaWrap from Wrap is a de-escalation tool carried in a pocket or on a duty belt that is intended to supplement an officer’s less-lethal capabilities. When an officer deploys this remote restraint device, a Kevlar cord is discharged toward a subject, configured so that the cord wraps around the subject’s legs and momentarily immobilizes them.
Unlike other less-lethal devices such as the TASER, a beanbag or rubber projectile, or pepper spray, the BolaWrap does not rely on pain compliance or disabling the subject with an electrical current. When the BolaWrap is deployed, officers can simply move in and take control of the subject without getting into a foot pursuit or using other measures that require post-arrest medical evaluation or treatment.
Use of the BolaWrap is similar to a TASER, though with an entirely different mechanism of effectiveness. Users load a one-use cartridge into the device. Pushing one button on the BolaWrap projects a laser onto the subject, aiding in proper aim. Pressing a second button launches the cable, which wraps around the subject. Once the subject is restrained, the officer simply unwraps the cable and discards it. The BolaWrap is in use in over 600 U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Police1 resource: 5 BolaWrap myths and facts for law enforcement officers
One innovation that is possibly not yet ready for prime time is Spot (surprisingly, it’s not an acronym), an “agile mobile robot” produced by Boston Dynamics. The company chose that name because of the robot’s design, looking like a headless dog. Spot is intended for use in environments too hazardous for a human, such as enclosures concealing barricaded armed suspects, inspection of possible explosive devices, and areas where chemical or fire dangers put people too much at risk. Where most remotely controlled vehicles move by the use of wheels or tank-like tracks, Spot operates on four articulated legs. It can climb stairs and ladders and turn doorknobs. A remote “pilot” controls Spot’s actions and receives what Spot sees and hears over a wireless link.
The St. Petersburg (FL) PD and NYPD both acquired Spots for field use, but NYPD sent theirs back after a harsh reception by the citizenry. When the robot was deployed in public alongside a human officer and a canine dog (I note this is the first time I have ever had to clarify “dog”), it just creeped folks out. Although Spot has no teeth, claws, or other weapons, it still makes people uneasy. Spot made me think of the robot spiders the Precrime Police deployed in the film “Minority Report.” They weren’t armed, either, but they still gave me chills.
If you want a Spot for your very own, be prepared to pony up somewhere between $75,000-$150,000, depending on options. If that seems like a lot, remember that you’ll never have to buy Alpo or gather up poop from the backyard.
Police1 resource: Should police be permitted to use robots to deliver lethal force?
Those are some of the highlights of the police product landscape in 2022. For more product procurement information, download Police1’s suite of How to Buy Guides.