Farmers Branch will become the first police department in Texas to use a new device that prevents officers from typing on dashboard computers while driving faster than 15 mph.
The department tells NBC 5 Investigates it plans to outfit all of its police cars with the Archangel II, a system that connects the officer’s dashboard computer to the car’s onboard computer.
Archangel locks the computer keyboard when the car exceeds a speed of 15 mph.
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“There won't be an officer driving a Farmers Branch police car going 50 miles an hour driving down the road typing on the keyboard,” said Deputy Chief Mark Young.
Farmers Branch already had a written policy prohibiting officers from typing while driving. But the department decided to go a step further after a couple of minor crashes where officers hit curbs and blew out tires because they were distracted while using their mobile computers while driving.
Archangel removes the temptation.
“It takes away the wanting to type. It keeps us honest,” said Farmers Branch Cpl. Terry Eoff. “It keeps us from doing it.”
An eight-month-long NBC 5 investigation uncovered dozens of more serious crashes involving Texas police officers distracted while using computers behind the wheel.After our initial reports, police in Fort Worth and Arlington revised their written policies to prohibit, or limit, officers from typing messages while the car is in motion.
“They will not divert their attention directly to typing and getting more information while the vehicle is in motion,” said Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead, in an interview last November.
Fort Worth police tell NBC 5 they also plan to test the Archangel II system in its patrol cars soon.
The company that makes Archangel said Irving police have also contacted them to learn more about the device.
Archangel II was developed and tested in Fort Wayne, Ind., where police say said it has helped them to limit distractions.
“You know, I felt we were really setting our officers up; putting all of this technology in a car and expecting them not to use that while they're moving,” said Chief Rusty York, with the Fort Wayne Police Department.
Now, when an officer drives above 15 mph, a box on the screen turns red and the keyboard is disabled. However, even when the keyboard is locked, officers can still get important information they need. The screen continues to show urgent updates from dispatchers and officers can still see the GPS screen to help direct them to an emergency.
If they need to check a license plate number, they have to pull over and enter the plate number or call a dispatcher on the radio instead.
To outfit all 20 Farmers Branch police cars it cost the department less than $4,000. The deputy chief said that’s cheap compared to the cost of crashes.
“One tire on a patrol car is a couple hundred dollars,” said Young. “If it saves somebody from being injured that's the main thing. If it avoids a lawsuit, even better.”
NBC 5's Eva Parks, Peter Hull and Shane Allen contributed to this report.