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The polycarbonate barriers fit between the seats, preventing a hand or foot getting through but still allowing communication between the back and the front.

Protective barriers to improve in-car safety

Nearly a decade after the idea was first raised, protective barriers between front and back seats are to be installed in Police vehicles.

Rob Morgan, Police national fleet manager, who has overseen the project from the start, says he is very proud that Police has come to “a solution that meets the needs of frontline police”.

The idea for barriers of some kind was originally raised through Police’s Continuous Improvement programme. That’s not surprising, considering the number of reports about incidents in cars that include officers being punched, kicked and spat at by offenders placed in back seats.

Trials in Taranaki and Whanganui in 2017, using a full barrier made of Perspex, revealed a variety of issues, Mr Morgan said.

The full barrier restricted movement of the front seats, which meant difficulties for bigger and taller members, and the Perspex caused visibility and glare issues with the headlights of oncoming vehicles reflecting off the barrier and interfering with the rear-view mirror. A full barrier also meant it was difficult to communicate between the front and back seats.

Consequently, a modified polycarbonate barrier was designed to fit only between the seats (the main area of risk for staff), but not allow a hand or arm to get through the gap.

The front seats are still fully adjustable and the design allows good communication between the front and back of the vehicle, Mr Morgan said. The barrier has also been angled to diminish any reflected glare.

The design was overseen by Police’s fleet group and manufactured by Best Bars, an Auckland company that specialises in vehicle accessories such as tow bars.

As of last month, barriers were ready for the new ZB Commodore and the old VF Commodore vehicles, with the Colorado customised barriers next off the production line.

“Throughout the process,” Mr Morgan said, “we encountered a range of opinions from staff, from it being urgent to those who didn’t want the barriers because it would make it difficult to reach their lunch in the back seat!”

The barriers are considered especially important for one-up patrols, but it will be up to each district to identify which vehicles will get the barriers, rather than a nationwide rollout.

Each barrier costs about $500 to buy and about $150 to install.

The Police Association supports the installation of the barriers as an opportunity to improve the health and safety of members.

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