Can this police driving 'black box' keep your officers alive?

The latest generation of telematics technologies allows police agencies to not only remediate problems, but reward those setting the best examples for safety

Telematics is a technology that sends, receives, and stores information from a source with the intent to monitor or control that source. In the cop world we know it as ‘the black box’ and we’ve generally used this technology to pull data from vehicles which have been involved in collisions.

Recent advancements have completely changed the game when it comes to telematics. Whether or not you’ve known it, telematics has very likely been monitoring you.

Telematics is common in rental cars, and many agencies have used a simple GPS receiver to monitor speed of officers’ vehicles. Often the technology has been used after collisions occur but recently agencies have started to monitor the single component of speed in order to prevent tragedy or to recognize poor driving habits. 

Telogis and the Next Level of Telematics for LE
It’s the same practice that has been used in civilian fleet vehicles and the trucking industry for close to two decades but law enforcement has been slow in recognizing the benefits. While telematics can certainly be misused, according to Gary Oldham, a former police officer and a current manager for Telogis, “Most of the time the technology will validate the actions and support an officer.”

Telogis has been involved in Fleet Telematics since 2001 but later this year they will be bringing a technology package exclusively to the Ford Taurus and Ford Explorer police cars that will forever change how law enforcement looks at and uses telematics. 

Data from the car will be sent to The Cloud that will enable those designated to see driving behavior to do so in real time via a secure website. Further, the historical driving behavior of the officer can be viewed. Any police package Ford vehicle built after 2012 can be collecting data on:

•    Acceleration
•    Harsh braking
•    Seatbelt use
•    Traction control
•    ABS Brake activation
•    Air bag deployment

Further, Telogis can collect data on various speed parameters such as a percentage over the speed limit as well as set speeds which can be determined by the individual agency. 

Referred to as a “Driver Scorecard,” these driving behaviors can be combined and calculated on a percentage basis to reveal what kind of a driver an officer is, allowing agencies to not only remediate problems, but reward those setting the best examples for safety.

Officer Safety and Responsibility
This actionable data is important for officer safety. We will no longer have to wait for a collision or tragedy to address safety-related issues. If an officer is consistently driving in excess of the speed limit or activating traction control for no reason, it could be a cause to intervene. The data is real-time so if an air bag deploys, others can be notified immediately by text or email of the event and location. 

While officers may be hesitant to embrace this technology, management needs to realize that this hesitation is for good reason. Too often, our leadership uses tools like this to hammer someone rather than for mentoring and coaching. 

Oldham explained, “Using this technology as a micromanagement tool would be a mistake. You can’t evaluate an officer working a 10-hour shift like a truck driver.” 

Indeed, a few harsh braking events with a delivery driver should cause concern while a police officer working a shift may have to do that behavior because of the nature of his assignment or the traffic encountered. We need to look at those exceptions. 

If we see dangerous behavior, it needs to be seen as a training tool. There are certainly exceptions and we should treat them as a learning opportunity. Oldham refers to this technology as a “proactive coaching tool from an officer safety perspective” that needs to be “socialized” at each agency. 

Training and evaluation is a must and for our telematics to be successful, law enforcement leadership must see it as the same way.

Finally, telematics has a budgetary upside as well — it provides the ability to save fuel and maintenance costs. Why did brakes have to be replaced so early or why does a particular vehicle get worse gas mileage than others in the fleet? With telematics, driving behavior can be looked at and changes made that can save future maintenance costs of the vehicles. 

Telematics is Needed, and it’s Coming
A few years ago, I mentioned to a colleague the ability to use this technology and I was laughed at. 

“A good supervisor knows who the bad drivers are,” I was told. 

While I agree, it is one thing to know and quite another to know and also have proven documentation. That documentation can and should be used to make safer police officers. With vehicle-related incidents killing more police officers than anything else, there is no reason to ignore technology that can help us save lives. 

During Oldham’s law enforcement career, he never had one hour of driver training after the basic academy. He watched friends get hurt and family die behind the wheel. His own brother, Max Oldham, died in the line of duty with the Albuquerque Police Department and while that incident was the fault of a drunk driver and technology was not present to assist, the loss is never far from Gary’s mind. 

His goal is to save lives, and beginning in September your agency will have the opportunity to do their part when this technology is released.

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