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NYPD is testing a high-tech, sensor-filled police cruiser of the future

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nypd cruisers (shutterstock)
nypd cruisers (shutterstock)

The NYPD cruiser of the future can scan license plates, record and stream live video, and detect radiation while getting officers around the city. And according to The Wall Street Journal, that advanced cruiser is already here in a limited form. As part of a New York Police Department program called NYPD2020, the department has been testing a prototype "smart car" for about a year now in Brooklyn Heights with the aim of vetting technologies that it might build into future cruisers. The Journal reports that the NYPD is currently interested in building more of the smart cruiser, but it'll be up to incoming police commissioner William Bratton to decide how the program moves forward.

Officers can be alerted to vehicles reported stolen or involved with crimes

With the smart cruiser, the NYPD is trying to provide its officers with more tools out in the field to increase how effective their patrols are, reports the Journal. One of the more used tools will likely be the infrared scanners — two of which are mounted on the car's trunk. The scanners record every number that they see, from license plates to addresses, and can alert officers to vehicles without outstanding infractions or that have been reported stolen or involved with a crime. That information will also be sent back to a command center along with data from the cruiser's radiation scanner, which monitors the air for increased levels of radiation.

Though the Journal reports that some of the technologies present in the prototype smart car have been installed in other NYPD cruisers, the prototype is meant to test all of them in conjunction — something no other vehicle has done. The smart cruiser can also print reports, scan barcodes, and record and stream live video back to the NYPD's HQ. Future cruisers could also include fingerprint scanners and facial recognition technology, but budget concerns may play a big factor on what is and isn't included.

While it isn't clear how the fingerprint scanner or facial recognition technology would be used, the NYPD is already detailing limits — or the current lack thereof — on storing personal data retrieved by the cruiser's scanners. Speaking to the Journal, the NYPD says that the data is stored whenever a scanned number doesn't match up with any flagged vehicles. Right now, it's kept for an indefinite period of time, though an NYPD deputy inspector said that would likely change. However, the data is reportedly only looked at when an investigation suggests that it's relevant.

Concerns have already been raised around the potential privacy issues associated with license plate scanners nonetheless, and adding scanners onto a fleet of patrol cars would only enhance those concerns if the NYPD doesn't further restrict what can be done with their recorded data. For now, a fleet with built-in scanners is only a possibility, but it's clear that the NYPD views its future cruisers as obvious tools for enhancing the power of its force.