If you ever find yourself in the back of a police car, use the time to admire the specialized interior design and high-tech technology that's becoming commonplace in today's law enforcement vehicles.
Gone are the days of the Ford Crown Victoria equipped with little more than sirens, light packages and a radio unit. Today, high performance vehicles rule the road, outfitted with specialized equipment.
On local streets, the Summit Hill and the Tamaqua police have welcomed new technology into their fleets. Both departments received 2013 Ford Police Interceptor sedans recently and are quick to praise the advancements made in squad car technology.
"It's almost like sitting in a cockpit of a plane," said Summit Hill Police Chief Joseph Fittos, describing the Interceptor. "Everything is within reach and you don't even have to look for it."
Fittos added he prefers the new V-6 engines in the Interceptor over the V-8 engines in Crown Victorias.
"The six-cylinder is more efficient as far as fuel goes and it's a quicker car," said Fittos.
Tamaqua police officers described the vehicle as roomier and ergonomically designed.
Both cars were purchased from Kovatch Mobile Equipment (KME), a company headquartered in Nesquehoning that designs and outfits service vehicles.
Bob Lebo, fleet and municipal sales, said KME receives vehicles from Ford manufacturing and equips the units in a process called "up-fitting."
"When a car comes from Ford, it's basically a bare car on the inside so then we create everything that police might need," said Lebo. "We put on the lights, the push bumper, any of the accessories."
Exposed to the newest technology while at Kovatch, Lebo said police car lightbars and in-car cameras have been making the biggest strides in advancement, explaining that LED lights are now being used in lightbars instead of halogen lights.
"LED's take a lot less power so it's a lot less of a drain on the power system. The lights are brighter and there are more flash patterns," said Lebo adding that the smaller LED lights make for a more low profile lightbar on top of a police vehicle.
In camera technology, the push has been for convenience.
"It's gotten smaller and instead of getting recorded to a disk or a hard drive, it is recorded to a SIM chip similar to in a cell phone. It's downloaded to that chip so at the end of your shift, you can take it out and stick it into your computer and download the information onto your computer," said Lebo.
Another development in cop car gadgets is the StarChase System.
While not found in Summit Hill's or Tamaqua's new vehicles, this product is one example of how high-tech the police field has become.
The StarChase System is composed of a compressed-air launcher mounted behind the grill of a police cruiser that launches a projectile GPS tag onto a fleeing vehicle. The projectile is made up partly of sticky adhesive and adheres itself to the runaway car. Once secured, the tag transits GPS coordinates back to the dispatcher onto a digital road map displayed on a computer inside the car.
Computers like the ones utilized with the StarChase System are becoming standard in squad cars.
Seventy-five percent of squad cars now contain on-board computers, which is one of the reasons why retired state trooper and Lehighton Councilman Scott Rehrig has been pushing to make sure the unit the Lehighton police department is scheduled to receive comes equipped with both a computer and a camera.
Rehrig said equipping the car with these technologies "will allow the officer and the citizen to verify accidents," allow patrolmen to issue accident reports on the spot and "extend their patrol coverage" while on duty.
Yet, with more technology and computer systems in cars comes additional distractions.
In 2010, public safety administration graduate students at St. Mary's University of Minnesota conducted research and found that distracted driving was responsible for 14 percent of all closed police auto liability claims from 2006 to 2010 and half of those crashes involved the use of squad car computers.
Regardless of the risks, gadgets are still being designed to incorporate computers and cell phones.
At the 2013 Police Security Expo, Code Three, a company that specializes in lighting technology, came out with a system called vLink, which allows a police officer to control the vehicle's lightbar and siren system from his or her cell phone.
Lebo said the product received mixed reviews.
"People say that if a police officer is trying to control the lights on his vehicle and his siren on his cell phone, he is looking down at his cell phone and not the scene in front of him and it could be a bad thing," said Lebo.
Yet, adding, "It might not be a bad thing if he is away from his vehicle and he wants to attract attention to the scene. Say, he is starting to take fire from a criminal and the lights aren't on."
Lebo said he believes the police do a great job with technology that Kovatch supplies and thought distractions could be cut down if officers took the right approach to highly advanced technology.
"Police need more training, more time, and more exposure to this equipment."