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Idling police cars keep public safe

Electronics require more juice than batteries can handle

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Idling police cars keep public safe

Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion points to some of the electronic equipment that police need to keep powered while working the streets.

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

POSTED January 9, 2014 1:17 a.m.

You’ve all seen them.

Police cruisers, parked out in front of a residence or a business or even the police department, with the distinct sound of an idling engine humming away.

And there’s not a soul in sight.

But it’s not because the officers who are driving them don’t want to wait for the heater to kick on or the air conditioner to get going full-blast on a hot summer day. The reason, quite honestly, becomes a legitimate matter of public safety.

“When the engine is running it runs all of the equipment that we have and that’s something that the battery can’t handle on its own,” said Manteca Police Sergeant Jodie Estarziau. “We’ve even tried to use an additional backup battery, but with the video and the recording system and the lights and the computer – everything just shuts down when the car gets turned off and they’re left running.

“And that screen is what the calls that are sent to the officers appear on. If that system shuts down, there’s a delay when it restarts, and it can take anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes to get all of those systems up and running again.”

According to Ripon Police Department First Sergeant Steve Merchant, officers are required to turn their vehicles off when they pull back into the parking lot at city hall and they’re going to be inside for any length of time.

Being conscious of fuel and the environmental concerns that comes from idling vehicles, Merchant said, is something that the department takes seriously.

Ripon’s officers, however, also rely on an intricate system of technology to make their jobs not only easier, but safer as well – utilizing an in-car computer system that taps in to the citywide MESH Wireless system and allows them to view any one of dozens of cameras that are positioned throughout the community.

“It’s really the same reason that ambulances and fire engines are commonly left on – there’s a lot of onboard equipment that requires constant charging, and when the vehicle is turned off the battery can go dead rather quickly,” he said. “We’ve tried things like backup generators but keeping the cars running works out the best.

“The big problem with the onboard computers is that when they power down there are passwords that need to be reentered and logins and all of that takes time. We want to make sure that everything is ready so that they’re able to respond to a call quickly and efficiently. That’s the most important thing.”

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