To the untrained eye, this prototype New York Police Department cruiser looks like almost any other squad car combing the streets of New York City. But this high-tech cruiser is the smartest cop car in the world.
It is the department’s prototype “smart car,” outfitted with the latest gadgets in public safety. It has two infrared monitors mounted on the trunk that record any numbers it sees—such as license plates and addresses. It has surveillance cameras and air sensors capable of sending real-time information to police headquarters. The NYPD says it is the cruiser of the very near future.
The smart car is one of dozens of projects included in a long-term strategic plan known as NYPD2020, prepared in November for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
The 13-page report describes initiatives ranging from the high-tech (500 officers have received Samsung Rugby smartphones equipped to deliver real-time crime data) to the bureaucratic (new guidelines for recruiting and keeping qualified candidates). More than a dozen are already under way.
The initiative began in 2011, under the guidance of McKinsey & Co. The consulting firm worked with NYPD officials over 11 months to create a road map for the department over the next decade. McKinsey & Co. declined to comment.
The report said using a consultant would help force change in such a large organization. Experts agreed. “Even the NYPD is limited in the things they can and can’t do,” said Jon Shane, a professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Mr. Kelly then charged the NYPD’s project-management office to decide which of the nearly 260 projects could be started immediately. The office’s seven employees, who have experience in technology, economics and terrorism analysis, is led by Deputy Inspector Brandon del Pozo, a 16-year NYPD veteran.
The smart car prototype has been on the road for about a year and is based out of the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn Heights. The idea came about as the NYPD looked for ways to connect intelligence gathered in the field with the department’s new system that compiles raw data, video feeds and other information, then alerts officials to potential incidents and maps where crimes occur. The system is already at police headquarters, and will soon be in each precinct and command around the city.
The car’s scanner can read license plates, then check the results against a database that contains the plate numbers of cars that are stolen, may have been involved in a crime, or have outstanding infractions. The data is stored for an indefinite period, though that will likely change, Mr. del Pozo said.
“It reads any set of numbers,” Mr. del Pozo said. “If it doesn’t get a hit, it gets stored. We don’t look at [the results] unless an investigation points to them.”
A detector attached to the rear windshield can scan the air for increased radiation levels, and ship the results back to an NYPD command center.
Some of these capabilities already exist in some squad cars, but no other car is outfitted with all of the technology, Mr. del Pozo said, adding that future smart cars might include fingerprint scanners and facial recognition sensors.
Besides getting officers to crime scenes, Mr. del Pozo said, a police cruiser should give officers information that helps them make better decisions in the field.
“If you look in the trunk of a police car, we have a lot of things that aren’t smart, but they are necessary. We have a shield, we have a fire extinguisher…we have a very powerful flashlight, we have a first aid kit. So, the thought is always, what can cops bring with them to the scene that can increase their effectiveness,” he said.
Other initiatives include counterterrorism awareness classes for traffic enforcement agents, allowing them to better identify suspicious activity, and reducing the amount of time officers spend on administrative tasks. One way to do that, the report said, is to create an online public database for accessing accident reports.
In terms of personnel, the department will begin closely tracking the experience and education levels of its officers so they can be matched up with certain assignments.
Other larger projects include finishing the police academy at its new campus in College Point, Queens, a 30-acre site that will consolidate training classes now taught at more than a dozen locations citywide. The academy will be opened for some programs in July 2014, and will be fully open—with a firearms and driver training courses—in 2018, the report said.
NYPD2020 focuses on advances in technology, which some experts said is a savvy move. Chuck Wexler, executive director at the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advises law-enforcement agencies, said many departments adopt technology to increase the department’s presence without having to place more officers on the street.
But police departments have to be mindful of where tech projects fit into the budget—many of the initiatives need to be updated and maintained to work correctly, Mr. Wexler added.
The next police commissioner, William Bratton, is likely the official who will decide which NYPD2020 projects move forward, which get scaled back and which are rejected, Mr. Shane said. He also will have to be careful about how it all fits into the police department’s budget, which in fiscal 2013 was $9.6 billion. A spokesman said Mr. Bratton hadn’t seen the report and couldn’t comment.