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Police explore synchronized traffic lights, using drones

Editor’s note: The Echo Press is excited to debut a new rotating column for the Opinion page called, “In the Know.” The writers are well-known within the community and will be sharing interesting information about their fields of expertise.

In an effort to remain on the leading edge of technology, the Alexandria Police Department has recently formed a new committee.

This group, made up of individuals from all levels of the department, has dubbed itself the Next Generation Technology (NGT) Committee. This group takes a page out of the research and development divisions found in other industries and seeks to utilize technology to ultimately provide better services to the citizens of Alexandria and reduces risks to its officers in potentially dangerous situations.

They are primarily focused on researching technology that will be available in weeks or months rather than years or even decades.

This will allow the department to acquire new items of technology before they become outdated and obsolete.

While NGT is a fairly new concept within the Alexandria Police Department, it is certainly making an impact already. Committee members have been researching a traffic signal preemption system in conjunction with the Broadway redesign project that is currently taking place. The systems being installed downtown work off of the emergency vehicle’s siren box and change the appropriate lights from red to green, allowing emergency services, including fire and medical, to travel to a scene more quickly and safely.

These devices had already been included with the new downtown design, but the Alexandria Police Department is researching where else within the city they may be helpful and how they could possibly be implemented.

The NGT committee also recently observed a presentation regarding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These devices, also called drones, have been in the news a great deal recently. The Alexandria Police Department had the opportunity to observe a brief demonstration of what these devices are capable of as well as ask questions of the operator.

The department is very interested in pursuing this technology further and excited for its potential applications regarding children or instances with other vulnerable individuals that go missing in a wooded area, for example. These devices are often fitted with a small video camera with a live feed back to the operator. This technology would allow an operator to quickly and efficiently search a large rural area, which may be inaccessible or difficult by foot, in a short amount of time.

If an infrared camera was included with the package, the drone would even function in the dark, allowing for resources to be spread out over a larger area and potentially locating the missing individual more efficiently.

These projects are only a few of the items that are currently being discussed and researched by this ambitious group of individuals. The ultimate goal of this committee reflects the mission statement of the police department as a whole: “To create and maintain a partnership with the community it serves in order to provide police services beyond expectations, as well as an opportunity for citizen involvement.”

NGT is betting that through research, creativity, and even a little elbow grease, this mission can be accomplished.