Westinghouse envisions police use of 'smart cars'

November 24, 1993|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

As Sgt. Finice McCabe sees it, that Westinghouse computer terminal mounted in the front of his Taurus patrol car may have as much to do with saving his life someday as the 9 mm Beretta automatic strapped to his hip.

The Anne Arundel County Police officer described the hypothetical situation of a colleague who was shot after pulling over a car. If the wounded officer can push the emergency button on his belt, the computer system will alert other patrol cars in the region and have them speeding to the location (within 30 feet).

That's just one of the features of the "smart car" that the local Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group is developing, with hopes of tapping into the law-enforcement market as a way to reduce its dependence on a declining Pentagon budget.

The computer system, which is being tested on four Anne Arundel County patrol cars, is also designed to provide officers with significantly more -- and faster -- information than that available through the traditional radio system.

With simply a vehicle tag number having been punched in, the computer can tell an officer in 30 to 50 seconds whether the vehicle has been stolen. Under the conventional system, it may take 10 to 15 minutes to get that information.

In another situation, an officer can touch a spot on the computer screen to call up a map to provide the fastest directions to an auto accident or disturbance.

And in the near future, an officer on patrol can run a person's finger across a scanner and, within minutes, have the computer search the FBI data files for any information on the suspect, including a photograph.

"It bring us into the computer age," Sergeant McCabe said of the technology, which was demonstrated yesterday at the police headquarters for law enforcement agencies from around the state.

Robert L. Russell, chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, called the "smart car" concept the biggest advance in law enforcement technology since the portable radio in the 1970s.

Chief Russell said that the equipment, which costs about $5,000 per car, is affordable and that he would like to start phasing it into the department's 400-car fleet next year.

Those plans may have to be put on hold. Robert R. Neall, the Anne Arundel County executive, stopped short of saying there would be money in the budget for the equipment.

The smart car is one example of Westinghouse's efforts to apply its technology in defense electronics to the law enforcement market. It is developing other products for this field, including security systems, illicit-drug detectors and automated fingerprint-identification systems.

Westinghouse, which has eliminated 7,000 jobs in Maryland, hopes that its move into law enforcement will generate sales of about $500 million by the end of the decade and help stabilize its employment as its defense business declines.

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