SINGAPORE: On the outside, the Singapore Police Force’s new fast response car has all the bells and whistles of a sophisticated, smart vehicle: A remote-controlled searchlight on the roof, sensors under the side view mirrors, and cameras on the front, sides and back.
But look inside the rear cabin and you will find a space that is almost threadbare. There are no leather seats, compartments or cup holders, just hard raised platforms with anti-slip grooves and a large screen separating the front cabin from the rear.
It is clear that this new car is not about passenger comfort, but using technology and functional design that is best suited for the job.
The absence of conventional seats means people in custody cannot hide objects between the cushions, police explained during a media event on Thursday (Jul 30) showcasing the new vehicle.
The hard surfaces are curved to make space for suspects in handcuffs, and easy to clean for an uncooperative few who might vomit or sweat a lot.
Even the seatbelt is designed such that police officers do not have to reach across suspects to help them buckle up. This protects officers from headbutts and sneak attacks.
The police said it will progressively roll out about 300 of these purpose-built Hyundai Tucson sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for use in the Ground Response Force, or neighbourhood police, operations. The new cars are expected to replace the current fleet of saloon patrol cars by 2024.
An SUV gives officers a better field of view due to its higher profile, said Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Ng Li Ki, operations officer at the Frontline Policing Division of the Operations Department.
“I think we have good officers who always think of how new technology can be used to improve the job functions,” he said. “When it's something that you're doing day in, day out, you're at risk with certain things, you will think of new ways of doing things.”
For one, visual sensors on the car automatically detect vehicle number plates on the move, sniffing out wanted vehicles while determining their make and colour.
The car’s external cameras can livestream 360-degree, high-resolution footage of the surroundings to the police operations command centre.
The car does not only have blinkers, a siren and a public announcement system, but also speakers that emit a low-frequency rumble to warn other road users. A spotlight can be mounted on the roof for use in low light conditions and search operations.
Some of these cars will also be used to test modular capabilities, like an integrated drone disruption function. This is one example of how the police is adapting to evolving threats, DSP Ng said.
Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police How Kwang Hwee, director of operations, said the new car will further improve the operational effectiveness and safety of ground officers.
“Officers’ feedback has been an integral part of the vehicle’s conceptualisation and development, and there has been much attention to detail on the features that have been included,” he said.
While the current fleet of fast response cars – comprising models like the Hyundai Elantra – is retrofitted to suit operational needs, this new batch is built with all its features from scratch. The new car was conceptualised in 2017 before production began two years later.
The police worked with the Home Team Science and Technology Agency on the car’s functional design and technology, calling it a “milestone” in developing vehicles customised for operational requirements.
NUMBER PLATE RECOGNITION
For instance, the car’s number plate recognition technology automates a job that usually involves officers keeping their eyes peeled for wanted cars, like those which might have been stolen.
The system is hooked up to a police database and will highlight wanted plate numbers in red on a dashboard screen. Police said this ensures officers do not have to divert their attention from ongoing tasks.
“There are various other things it can pick up depending on the weather and lighting conditions ... like the model and the make,” DSP Ng said.
“But it’s not something that is absolutely foolproof. So what we are most attuned to for the particular function, really, is the ability to detect and match it against our database.”
VIDEO RECORDING SYSTEM
The car’s cameras that can stream footage to the command centre will allow for better incident management, police said, adding that the system works using 4G and eventually 5G technology.
DSP Ng said this allows the command centre to see, through the vehicle, what is going on in different neighbourhoods and parts of Singapore.
“It's helpful because you can have a first-eye glance. When the officer reports this and that, you also have a visual of what’s taking place,” he said.
“And that's something which is quite important for us, especially when we try to look towards higher technology, interpreting this footage and data, assessing how many resources to send and things like that.”
MORE CONVENIENCE FOR OFFICERS
Technology is also used in the car’s boot, where radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors automatically tell officers via the dashboard screen if they are missing standard issue items that come with each car. These RFID-tagged items include helmets, vests and shields.
Police said this helps officers account for their equipment and streamline their work processes.
The front seats are ergonomically contoured to ensure officers wearing equipment like tasers and revolvers on their belts can get in and out of the car smoothly, and drive for long hours more comfortably.
“We cannot just keep adding (equipment) and just trusting that officers’ backs are okay,” DSP Ng said. “So, we also cater for that inside this vehicle.”
The next-generation fast response car will be part of the National Day Parade mobile column that is set to move through the heartlands of Woodlands, Bishan and Geylang Serai on Aug 9.