NISKAYUNA — When an officer pulls a driver over late at night, there are many details to hone in on. The last thing an officer should be concerned with is the equipment.
But during a nighttime traffic stop, as soon as an officer steps out of the patrol car, he or she can be blinded by the same lights that are meant to provide safety, making it more difficult to notice any danger ahead.
That is where the work of Jason Hamilton, of Niskayuna Tire and Service Center, comes in.
For the past three years, Hamilton has been revamping – or ‘upfitting’ – police vehicles and other emergency vehicles for the Schenectady Police Department, the Rotterdam Fire Department and other agencies to help officers and emergency crews focus on the situations at hand, rather than their equipment.
Hamilton works with a system called bluePRINT, which automates emergency light and siren performance functions on any vehicle.
So, instead of an officer being blinded by the light bar at the top of the patrol car, Hamilton is able to program the lights so the flash pattern changes as soon as the vehicle is in park, turning off the corner lights that blind while keeping the central lights on for visibility.
The lights are so bright that Hamilton and his crew sometimes have to wear sunglasses when working on them.
The bluePRINT system also has functions that allow the operator to change the siren sound or frequency of the flash pattern by simply pushing an auxilary button on the steering wheel.
When a new vehicle comes in, Hamilton and his team map out the needs of the user and draw up plans on how to rewire or relocate things like siren speakers to make them more effective. The interior is then gutted to expose the wiring.
The team outfits a wiring harness to run right alongside the vehicle’s original wiring system and reinstalls everything, checking for failure points in the system. They also reinstall siren speakers and any radio equipment, sometimes changing their locations in the vehicle to make them easier to use or more effective.
Buddy Wyman, a Niskayuna police officer of 34 years, works with Hamilton to upfit the vehicles.
“It’s gold to have a police officer there,” said Hamilton, of having Wyman working on the cars.
Wyman gives feedback on the system and on the efficacy of any changes, based on his field experience.
“It makes things so much safer for the officer, and it’s very user-friendly,” Wyman said of the system. All throughout planning and the installation, Wyman views everything through the lens of a police officer.
The bluePRINT system also upgrades the ‘scene lighting,’ which gives the officers or emergency crews better visibility once they arrive on a call.
The lighting capabilities are what most intrigued Josh Smith, Rotterdam’s Fire Chief.
“We traditionally just buy pickup trucks, and we’ll put lights on the roof and on the back, so I’ve always been concerned with visibility,” Smith said.
For Smith, intersections pose one of the greatest challenges for visibility. Hamilton is upfitting the vehicle to have side lighting. That might include inceptor lights, which are small lights installed under the side mirrors that give the vehicle 360-degree lighting.
The intersection lighting feature is simple to activate. Tapping the horn increases the flash pattern so that, when the vehicle is going through an intersection, it’s more visible.
Hamilton also replaces some of the halogen lights with LED lights, which he said last longer and can be cheaper.
One of the challenges of upfitting the vehicles is that each has its own lighting, siren and radio system, and each agency – such as the police department, fire department, and others – have specific needs for the vehicles. Thus, Hamilton and his team draw up a unique plan for every vehicle they work on.
“We also do all of this within $1,000 of what it would cost for a conventional system,” Hamilton said.
His team also works to keep the vehicles uniform from fleet to fleet, so officers and/or firefighters don’t have to learn a new system for each vehicle.
For now, Hamilton has worked on police and fire department vehicles. But he said the system can be installed on any vehicle.
“It’s all about keeping the officer safe to do their job,” he said.