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Local law enforcement agencies install software to limit officer distraction

WILLMAR — Both the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office and the Willmar Police Department have recently installed software and hardware in their agency’s squad cars to limit officer distraction caused by interaction with the vehicle’s computer.

The agencies installed the ArchAngel software, and a cable connecting the on-board laptop computer to the vehicle’s electronic systems to sense vehicle speed, when the computers were upgraded about six weeks ago, according to Sheriff Dan Hartog and Chief David Wyffels.

With the software installed, officers cannot type on the computer keyboard if the vehicle is traveling at more than 15 mph, but they still see the computer screen and can use select keys, such as the function keys, to see selected information sent from the county dispatch center.

The software turns the screen completely off when the vehicle speed reaches 75 mph, eliminating distraction to officers as they respond to an emergency call or pursue a suspect.

“It’s for everybody’s safety, the officer’s safety and the public’s safety,” Hartog said.

Prior to the installation, deputies and officers were advised of the agencies’ policies on using the computers while driving, but were also to use common sense and their discretion.

The software allows the settings to be predetermined and set, and the settings cannot be overridden.

Wyffels, who says he has taken some flak from his patrol officers chafing under the new limitations, said he has recognized the potential for bad things to happen, such as a distracted officer hitting a person or vehicle, and taken action by having the software installed to prevent such incidents from happening here.

“It is to protect us from ourselves,” Wyffels said. “I don’t believe we should wait for the accident to happen and then respond.”

Law enforcement agencies give citizens the talk about the dangers of distracted driving caused by texting and phones, he notes, but then need to be responsible with the exception granted to officers using squad car technology for the public’s safety.

“There is a balance between getting the job done and safety,” Wyffels said.

The funding for the Sheriff’s Office installation, in 25 squad vehicles, was funded by payments from participants in the driver’s diversion class. Citizens who have received a traffic ticket can opt to participate in a two-hour class, pay a $75 fine instead of a $150 ticket and not have the ticket go on their driving record.

Funding for the Police Department’s installation, in 14 squad vehicles, was part of the cost of the computer upgrades, Wyffels said. The computers were actually cheaper that what had been budgeted, so the savings was used to purchase the ArchAngel software and hardware.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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