Crime & Justice

LAPD to track how safely officers are driving patrol cars

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 14:  Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars are deployed at Dodger Stadium prior to the start of a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 14, 2011 (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 14: Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars are deployed at Dodger Stadium prior to the start of a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 14, 2011 (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Ever seen a police officer speeding through busy streets without lights and sirens?

Maybe the officer wasn't wearing a seatbelt?

Starting next month, the Los Angeles Police Department will track how officers drive patrol cars in an effort to reduce the number of cruiser crashes.

About 50 LAPD patrol cars in the Central and Valley bureaus will transmit real-time driving data from black boxes inside the vehicles as part of a one-year pilot program.

Each unit installed in the patrol vehicles costs about $280. It’ll track and transmit how fast the car was traveling, whether seatbelts and the light bar were in use and how hard the driver slammed on the brakes.

“Chances of them getting into a car crash is much higher than ever getting into a shootout,” said Sgt. Dan Gomez with LAPD’s technology division.

He said the goal is to use the data to identify dangerous driving behaviors that can be corrected during training to keep officers and people safe.   

For years, the Los Angeles Police Department has tried to cut back on the number of police car crashes to avoid costly lawsuits, pricey vehicles repairs, or worse, deadly collisions that kill citizens or officers.

Six LAPD officers have died in traffic collisions this year; three of them were off-duty.

Three years ago, the city paid a $5 million to the family of a 25-year old woman who died when an LAPD patrol car crashed into her in 2009. The city paid $6.6 million to another family for a police crash that killed a 27-year old woman in 2010. 

“If a police car is involved in a traffic collision we’ll have much more to learn about that traffic collisions using this technology,” said police administrator Arif Alikhan at an L.A. Police Commission meeting this month.

He said police traffic collisions have declined since 2009, when there were more than an thousand. Last year, he said LAPD officers were involved in 896 crashes.

The LAPD began researching telematics programs about a year and a half ago, said Gomez. Commercial delivery companies like UPS and FedEx use telematics to improve efficiencies in fuel costs and delivery routes.

Gomez said the LAPD wanted a way to customize that technology to collect driving data specific to law enforcement such as when the patrol car’s lights and sirens are activated.

They also want to track spinouts, engine torque, the car’s stability and traction control, and when the anti-lock braking system (ABS) kicks in, which keeps the car from skidding uncontrollably.

“That tells you that the car is compensating for some part of your driving,” Gomez said.

For the last six months, the LAPD has been working with Aliso Viejo-based tech company Telogis to develop the software.

Every 30 seconds data will be transmitted using cellular connections to the company’s servers. LAPD watch commanders, command staff and driving trainers can access the reports.

The software can customize scorecards that rate driving safety performance by officer or vehicle.

“We’re really helping departments identify patterns of behavior,” said Gary Oldham, manager of public safety development at Telogis.

Oldham, who spent six years as a police officer with the San Marino and Pasadena police departments in the late 1970s, said agencies could set thresholds that send email or text alerts when an officer or vehicle exceeds them.

For example, the telematics system could send a text message to the watch commander or supervisor on duty when a patrol car’s airbags are deployed to indicating officers were involved in a crash. That could get emergency help to the scene faster, Oldham said.

The law enforcement telematics program could be advantageous for Ford. It discontinued the long-time law enforcement favorite Crown Victoria series in 2011. Ford has partnered with Telogis to pre-install the data-tracking program in its latest series of law enforcement vehicles.

For the last three months, the LAPD has been testing three patrol vehicles on the track simulating high-speed vehicle pursuits to see what data can be pulled. But Gomez said the true test is finding ways to use data from real car chases or when officers are speeding to answer calls.

“If we can change some behavior, if we can empower officers to be better while driving their vehicle, then it’s a worthy endeavor,” he said

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that two off-duty LAPD officers died in traffic collisions this year; in fact, it is three off-duty officers.