Under lock and key fob
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It might seem like a silly question, but a spate of incidents in the past year has resulted in Police fleet managers reissuing guidelines to staff for keeping police cars secure.
Braydon Lenihan, PNHQ operations manager, response and operations, is quick to point out that it’s “not a big problem” in terms of the number of times it happens. However, after an IPCA report in July into an incident in Gore last year, Police announced it would be issuing a national instruction to remind staff to remove keys from unoccupied vehicles.
“There are already videos and instructions out there for this,” Braydon says, “but we will be looking to provide a reminder to staff to bring it back to the forefront of their minds.”
Locking your car is a basic concept for most of us, but, to be fair, it’s a little more complicated for frontline police staff.
To start with, says PNHQ Specifications Sergeant Dave Martin, the patrol car is not just a car. “It’s a piece of Police equipment and a tool to help you do your job. It’s a mobile office and where you store firearms, and it’s a means of escape if necessary.”
It’s also understandable that details that should be second nature can be overlooked during the distractions of unexpected and rapidly evolving situations involving offenders.
Locking the vehicle is just one aspect of patrol car security. Adding to the complexity is the fact that there are currently two models of public safety team patrol car being used, each with a slightly different locking procedure to activate the anti-theft ignition system (ATIS).
Cops frequently want to leave their car engines running: for example, to keep the lights and radios on (a running engine ensures the battery won’t go flat), and both patrol car models have the ability to be locked while the engine is running.
The trick, says Dave, is always be aware of what model of car you are driving.
If you are in the more-common, later-model ZB Holden Commodore, which has a push start, and you need to leave the engine running, get out, shut the door and lock the car using the fob, which will activate the ATIS.
If you are in the older-style VF Holden Commodore, you need to leave the engine on, activate the ATIS by pushing a button on the siren and lights controller, then exit the car and lock it using the blade-style key in the door lock.
Having said that, Dave says, he understands there are reasons why an officer might be reluctant to be fiddling around with buttons and manual door locks when they would rather be keeping an eye on whoever they had just pulled over.
Another issue that has been identified is that some officers may have a false sense of security because they have the car fob in their hand.
“The reality is,” says Dave, “that there are scenarios where push-button vehicles can still be started. For example, if the officer had switched off the engine by reaching through the window, instead of opening and closing the door.”
The ignition is linked to the action of the door being opened and shut. Possessing the key fob does not secure the car. Potentially, a push button-style car can still be started without the fob being in it, Dave says.
“Manufacturers no longer routinely incorporate vehicle shutdown once out of range of the key fob,” he says. “The reason being that there is a risk the engine could shut down on a freeway or in the middle of an intersection, exposing the occupants to risk.”
If the ATIS is properly activated (as outlined above), vehicles can be left running and secured at the same time.
Dave says there is no perfect system and, with the current pace of auto tech innovations, it won’t be long before there are more changes, including the fact that, with Holden Commodores no longer being made, Police will be choosing another model of patrol car.
He stresses that the onus remains on staff to be aware of the security features of whatever car they are in.
As Braydon says, problems with vehicle security are rare, but they are embarrassing for Police, attracting a lot of media attention and having the potential to put staff at risk.