LAPD’s dart firing, license plate reading, video streaming car

Posted by Humphrey Cheung

Los Angeles police officers are riding in style with a new police car that’s bristling with cameras, computers and even a GPS projectile launcher.

Los Angeles (CA) – Los Angeles police officers are riding in style with a new police car that’s bristling with cameras, computers and even a GPS projectile launcher.  The LAPD’s so-called “Smart” car currently helps patrol the city’s Jordon Downs public housing project and officer’s are calling it the “most advanced” police car in the world.  With the help of several on-board cameras, officers can scan several thousand license plates per shift, watch streaming video from surveillance cameras and even fire GPS tracking “darts” at escaping vehicles.

 

LAPD's Smart patrol car ...

 

 

LAPD’s Sgt. Gomez gave TG Daily a tour of the car at a Motorola Data Solutions Forum at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.  Perhaps the noticeable aspect of the car is the two bright-white camera modules mounted on top of the vehicle.  The modules face to the sides and actually contain two cameras – an infrared camera for looking at license plates and a wide-angle color camera for previewing scenes.

The license plate cameras are able to scan California and out-of-state plates at high speed and the car computer will tell officers if a vehicle is stolen or wanted within one second.  The system will also automatically recognize vehicles that are on California’s Amber Alert system.  When the system gets a “hit”, the color camera takes a snapshot of the car and also records the officer’s GPS location.

Gomez says the system can quickly scan five to eight thousand license plates per shift and that all the results can be downloaded into station computers with USB thumb drives or by actually pulling the hard drive.  In the future, the plate information can also be uploaded through LAPD’s wireless mesh network.

The license plate information has already helped the LAPD catch several criminals.  Gomez said the plates are merged into a huge database that is then data mined for further information and patterns.  Crime broadcasts often include the criminal’s car and license plate numbers and the LAPD can now look backwards in the database to find out where the vehicle was last parked.

Like many other police cars, the Smart car has a forward-facing camera, mounted just inside the front windshield, to record arrests and traffic stops.  Another backwards-facing camera records any prisoners in the back.  Videos from both sources are stored digitally on a hard drive in the trunk and are then uploaded at the police station through either a wireless network or through a pull-out Ethernet cable, also located in the trunk.  In the worst case scenario, Gomez said a supervisor can physically pull the hard drive.

In addition to recording video, the Smart car can also stream outside video to the vehicle’s Dell laptop.  Officers can watch and control Axis surveillance cameras that have been set up in the Jordon Downs housing project.  Gomez told us that the footage is beamed through an experimental wireless mesh network and can hit the car as far as one mile out.

Police chases often make for great nail-biting television, but for officers the fun wears out quickly.  Unlike most criminals, the police have to worry about hitting innocent bystanders and making it home to see their loved ones.  Gomez pointed out the double-barreled “StarChase” launcher in the front grill that shoots out three-inch diameter GPS-tracking projectiles.  The system allows officers to slow down or break off a pursuit if the situation becomes too dangerous, like when a suspect is careening through a school zone when school is out.

LAPD officers arm and fire the projectiles through a panel in the center console of the car.  Elevation can be adjusted up and down while car steering controls the left/right aiming.  A military-grade green laser is mounted near the launcher and helps mark the target when the system is armed.

The StarChase system also has a remote-fire capability that would probably make Batman jealous.  Officers carry a key fob that can wirelessly fire the projectiles, just in case the criminal tries to get away while the good guys are out of the car.

Unfortunately the StarChase system hasn’t been officially fired yet because the department doesn’t know what the hefty projectiles will do to human beings.  Most car chases aren’t serene affairs and often include quite a bit of dodging and weaving, giving no guarantee that the projectiles will hit the crooks.  Another LAPD officer told us the department will first test the system by firing the projectiles against inanimate dummies.  No word on if this will escalate to include actual human testing in the future.