Canberra News: Inside the complex process of transforming regular vehicles into high-tech ACT Policing assets

Sitting on its stand in the ACT police technical workshop is a one-off prototype BMW motorcycle which the technicians affectionately described as their “unicorn”.

It’s so named because there’s nothing else like it in the country.

Modified in the workshop, the new BMW GS1250 has three on-board cameras for automated number plate recognition (two facing forward, one facing to the rear), two high-definition cameras, radar speed detection, and all the other standard police-issue equipment needed for day-to-day traffic duties.

The on-the-go multi-tasking required for the rider to operate one with a large, weatherproof computer screen spread across the handlebars and numerous switches and dials, all while wearing heavy protective gloves and a safety helmet, is a reminder of how these traffic officers have to be a cut well above the average rider.
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Inside the police technical workshop, with a VW Passat turbo wagon in for a fit-out. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

 Inside the police technical workshop, with a VW Passat turbo wagon in for a fit-out. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

But the motorcycle, which took two-and-a-half months to build, is just one of many small technical miracles which occur on a regular basis at ACT Policing’s unseen technical services workshop in Belconnen.

Every year the small technical team performs up to 100 vehicle fit-outs.

It’s a task which requires mechanical, auto-electrical and occasional fabrication skills and every fresh fit-out must be performed as quickly as possible to reduce the “down time” on police vehicles needed out on the road.

When production of the ubiquitous, “home-grown” Falcons and Commodores – for decades Australia’s generic, locally-produced police car – wound up four years ago, every police jurisdiction in the country scrambled to choose their own operational vehicles.

Across the handlebars of the newest ACT police motorcycle fits a computer screen, used to run the three camera-automated number plate recognition system. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

 Across the handlebars of the newest ACT police motorcycle fits a computer screen, used to run the three camera-automated number plate recognition system. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The ACT has Subaru Liberties and Outbacks, as well as VW Passats and BMW X3s, while neighbouring NSW prefers the BMW 5-Series diesel sedan and Chrysler 300C for its highway patrol.

Vehicle diversity in a police fleet is preferred because it means that should there be a manufacturers’ safety recall, such as with the international Takata airbag recall, it wouldn’t force too many cars off the road.

When each ACT car reached the end of its three-year lease period, it is withdrawn from duty, has all the police-relevant equipment stripped out, and goes off to public auction.

The replacement car is driven in, equipment that is easily transferred goes across to it, and then the technicians start removing panel covers, running wires and plugging in new harnesses.

“When the fleet changes from one brand to another is always the hardest part of the job because more often than not, you’re starting a build from scratch,” technical team leader Joe Turner said.

“That means new wiring, custom-built electronics, measuring and fabricating brackets and mounting boards, and then figuring out where in the car everything has to go.

The interior of a new police rural patrol Toyota LandCruiser being stripped out and fitted with three different types of radio (UHF, police and RFS), and a satellite phone. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

 The interior of a new police rural patrol Toyota LandCruiser being stripped out and fitted with three different types of radio (UHF, police and RFS), and a satellite phone. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

“The road policing cars are the most complex because they carry so much standard equipment such as two computers, three ANPRs (automated number plate recognition cameras), five high-definition video cameras, police lights and sirens controller, mobile data terminal, radar detection, digital speedometer, police radio, batteries, auxiliary police lights, light bar and rooftop message board.

“And they also have to keep plenty of free space on board for portable equipment such as traffic cones, torches, weatherproof gear and stop sticks.”

Every technical installation cannot interfere with the police car’s standard safety equipment and has to be robust enough to withstand major impacts.

A few weeks ago, a police patrol Subaru Liberty car was rammed by another vehicle and rolled over.

“When we assessed the rolled car, none of our installed equipment had come loose in the cabin or interfered with the proper deployment of the airbags, so that was a pretty good endorsement of how well we had designed it and put it together,” Mr Turner said.

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