- The Washington Times - Friday, December 27, 2002

PIKESVILLE, Md. Maryland State Police Sgt. Julio Valcarcel scans the midmorning traffic on Interstate 695 near Pikesville, then narrows his gaze onto a Ford Expedition passing on the shoulder.
"Alert three," he shouts, activating his cruiser's lights and siren before pulling the driver over to issue a warning.
Sgt. Valcarcel is testing out the first "smart car" made for police. While technology such as voice activation has appeared in high-end civilian cars, the state police cruisers mark the first time it has been integrated into a "command and control" system for police cars.
On the outside, Sgt. Valcarcel's patrol car looks like any other a green and black Ford Crown Victoria but inside, a slim computer monitor, activated by voice, controls the lights, siren, radar, video and radio.
The system, called TACNET, also includes a "heads up" display a small, clear screen mounted on the windshield that displays results of criminal background checks and license information.
"The trooper or police officer does not have to take their eyes off the road," said Capt. Suzanne Jordan, who works in the information technology management division. "That's important in a high-speed pursuit."
Police said bulky equipment in patrol cars has caused injuries to officers during accidents. Other mounted items can interfere with airbag deployment, officials said.
The system was created by Visteon, a systems-integration company in Dearborn, Mich., owned by Ford until 2000. The company already markets its voice-activation technology for use in Jaguars and other top-end civilian cars.
Company spokeswoman Robin Pannecouk said Visteon is the first firm to take pieces of existing smart-car technology and customize it for police cars. She wouldn't say which other states, if any, were testing the technology, but said Maryland received the first prototype.
With hardware in the trunk and a slim computer screen near the dashboard, officers can surf the Internet and check e-mail in their car, which Sgt. Valcarcel said can help officers get the information they need faster. And in the event the computer crashes, the system also has a manual backup control pod mounted near the seat.
The system also allows simultaneous transmission over multiple radios and prioritizes radio signals, allowing agencies to better communicate with each other.
It may be a couple of years before the system hits the market, Miss Pannecouk said. If it does, police would provide the company with the cars, and Visteon would outfit them with the equipment.
Sgt. Valcarcel, who was trained on the demonstrator, is providing feedback to Visteon on how well the system works.
"It's not a road-worthy car yet," said Sgt. Valcarcel, who works in the state police technology development division.
For instance, the video camera gets stuck on zoom, and the voice-activation microphone sometimes picks up only loud voices.
Capt. Jordan said the state police does not yet have the funding to implement the technology, and the company has not set prices.
The system, however, could help officers get information faster.
"One of the visions we hope to achieve in the next five years is a mobile data-computing environment for law enforcement in Maryland," Capt. Jordan said. "That means our road patrol troopers would be able to get the information that they need when they need it."

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