Buffalo police cars are getting tricked out with high-tech bling.
A mere swipe of the bar code on your driver's license and up pops your prior traffic convictions for officers to view on their mobile computer terminal.
Electronic eyeballs, fixed to the patrol car hood, can read five license plates a second and interact with Albany's computers to let the officer know whether your wheels are a "steal."
In addition, all 200 of the Buffalo Police Department's patrol cars will soon be equipped with "pucks" that beam signals to global positioning satellites, which track patrol car locations at all times. Police administrators are looking into a combination of state and local funds to help pay for the changes.
Police brass say that it isn't about Big Brother looking over your shoulder, but strictly officer and citizen safety. If an officer is in trouble or can't be reached by radio, the dispatcher will know exactly where to send backup assistance.
"Our officers patrol alone, and we want to make sure they're safe," said Capt. Mark Makowski, who oversees the department's planning and analysis.
If a citizen calls for help, the dispatcher can glance up at a computer screen and see which patrol cars are closest to the scene.
"The closest-car concept is something we are going to visit," Inspector Joseph F. Strano said of how police cars in the future may be dispatched in the city's many patrol sectors.
A lot of this technology, Strano added, is already in use at suburban police departments, but with the region's biggest police agency now catching up, many more area residents are likely to experience the benefits of 21st century policing.
The time it takes to be issued a traffic summons will be substantially reduced. And anyone who has ever gotten a ticket knows how painful it can be sitting and waiting for the bad news.
"It is painful getting a ticket, but with this new technology, the officer swipes the bar code on the driver's license, and the driver's information automatically comes up on a ticket template, and the only thing the officer has to do is type in the location and the infraction number," Makowski said.
If multiple tickets are being issued, which traditionally takes even longer, the officer presses a button and gets a fresh template with the driver's information transferred.
Before you know it, an in-car printer has churned out the summonses on wispy thermal paper, and the officer can hand them off to the driver.
"We're hoping to get the motorist on his or her way more quickly and get the officer back in service," Makowski said.
By turning patrol cars into rolling desktops with increased connectivity to the Internet, crime and accident reports can be filed directly from the scene, rather than waiting until a civilian report technician can enter the information into the computer system, said systems support analyst Jim Kaufmann.
Elimination of the paper reports also can mean quicker review by police supervisors and crime analysts who can identify and address crime hot spots and trends with stepped-up enforcement.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles also gets an electronic transmission of the summonses and accident reports, thus saving a step rather than having someone manually input the information.
The benefit is that dangerous drivers and stretches of road come to the attention of authorities more quickly, again allowing faster responses in protecting law-abiding citizens.
The GPS units in patrol cars also allow officers to see where their counterparts are patrolling, with a quick look at the screen of their in-car computer terminal.
Officers patrolling close to the city's borders can view the closest suburban patrol cars, which can prove handy when criminals cross borders.
And in the future, the capability exists to add the GPS devices to fire trucks and other emergency response vehicles, according to Kaufmann.
But for now the electronic gadgetry will be added to patrol cars, and traffic and mobile response units. With training and installation, Strano said, the shift to hi-tech should take about two months.