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Sergeant Cherie Morgan checks out the driver’s seat of the prototype Skoda Superb patrol car, above, during the preview for media in March. Photo: MARK MITCHELL/NZ HERALD

New cars, new tech

With the arrival of the first 80 Skoda Superb vehicles in the country this month, Police is set to test a range of innovations during the fit-outs of the new patrol cars.

The prototype Skoda unveiled to the media in March already has some potential new features installed:

  • live location data (not currently captured by the Police fleet)
  • automatic reporting when a new prototype gun safe in the boot has been accessed
  • automatic reporting when the emergency lights have been activated.

The possibility of remote immobilisation of the vehicle – for example, if it is stolen – is also being investigated.

Adapting the Skoda Superb for specialist groups such as the dog section is under way. A design working group, led by national dog manager Todd Southall, will decide what is needed in the new dog van. Potential features are a full-monitor rear view mirror and the ability to regulate the temperature of dog pods in the van.

It’s an exciting time for the fleet managers, even if the decision to switch manufacturers was forced on Police when Holden and Ford stopped making the vehicles that have been in use for more than 40 years. The last two Holden Equinoxes rolled off the production line on April 12.

Fleet manager Inspector Brian Yanko says the tender process provided an opportunity to address some long-standing complaints from the frontline about the existing vehicles, particularly around the amount of room in the interior for people and space for equipment in the boot, plus environmental concerns.

Mandatory criteria for replacement vehicles includes radio interference, performance and braking testing.

“We recognise the patrol cars are the working environment for frontline officers and where they spend most of their time,” Brian says. “Our role is to look at making them fit for purpose and as safe as possible through careful design. Is there enough room in the rear seat and in the boot to have all the necessary equipment, including the gun safe? Will it help reduce our carbon footprint?”

The new tech being trialled on the prototype gun safe reports when it has been opened and how many times a day it is opened, information that could be important in a subsequent inquiry.

Live location data would be provided by the vehicle’s telematics unit (the sending and receiving of information related to the vehicle). This is currently installed in 85 per cent of existing fleet vehicles to report on vehicle mileage, but, Brian says, it can be modified to provide a live feed of a vehicle’s location.

“If we know the exact location of our vehicles it would add huge value to deployment decisions and provide vital information in certain circumstances, such as if a vehicle is stolen.”

He stresses that this function is currently only activated in a small group of pilot vehicles and will not be used to retain historical location data. “Any national roll out of this functionality would be well communicated across the organisation,” he adds.

The “black box” technology could potentially also be used to remotely immobilise a vehicle through the comms centres or district command centres.

Brian says the vehicle tender and assessment process was led by feedback from staff on the ground, including very tall staff to test the comfort of the seating.

They ended up with a shortlist of 12 vehicles, with the Skoda Superb 162kW two-wheel drive and the 206kW four-wheel drive emerging as the top contenders.

The fact that about 30,000 Skodas are used in more than 30 law enforcement jurisdictions in Europe and Britain might have helped tip the decision in their favour.

The tender was completed in November, with the prototype developed soon after. The first 80 Skodas, due to arrive early this month, will feed into the replacement programme of up to 450 vehicles annually across the 3600-strong Police fleet. Of those, 2400 are equipped as frontline patrol cars.

But there’s a process to go through before a vehicle can report for duty.

The Skodas will be sent to Wade Group in Hamilton where sections are stripped down so the necessary wiring and equipment can be installed to turn them into patrol vehicles, complete with sirens and lights and all the other gadgets that assist with frontline policing.

Well aware of the reputation of European cars in New Zealand, and the perceived difficulty of getting parts, Brian says he is confident about the ongoing supply of parts and support for the fleet.

“Having recently visited Skoda NZ and European Motor Distributor’s 6000-square-metre state-of-the art parts distribution complex in Auckland, I am completely reassured that the huge number of contingencies that Police regularly face with our fleet have been taken into account.”

That includes replacement of parts that are particular to police vehicles, such as damaged roof linings and door handles, “which are regularly damaged by some of our passengers”.

Research is ongoing, he says, to make sure that when cars are off the road due to damage or mechanical failure, they can be turned around as soon as possible.

It will be four to five years before all the Holdens are taken out of service (when they reach five to six years old or clock 120,000km) and Brian says it’s business as usual for the service and maintenance of them.

Most of the 400 to 450 vehicles being replaced annually will be the 162kW, two-wheel drive models, which are expected to contribute to a 30 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared with other models in the fleet.

Who will get the 206kW models has yet to be decided.

The Police livery has changed slightly with the addition of the 111 and 105 phoneline details and branding on the back of the new vehicles.

It seems just about everyone is an expert when it comes to Skoda patrol cars. When the Police Association posted Police’s big reveal of the Skoda Superb on its Facebook page last month, it reached more than 100,000 people and attracted more than 300 comments, covering the spectrum from “yeah” to “nah” with plenty of Skoda jokes thrown in (a reference to the fact the cars are made in the Czech Republic, formerly part of the Communist Eastern Bloc that had a reputation for poor quality automobiles).

Many people questioned why Police hadn’t opted for electric or hybrid vehicles. Police already has a handful of electric and hybrid cars for non-operational roles, but, like all government departments, it’s now obliged to research reducing carbon emissions and improving sustainability across its entire fleet.

Police has said electric vehicles do not currently meet its operational requirements, but, with the technology advancing all the time, we can expect to see more of them in various roles from this year onward.

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