Mobile command bus delivered

Published 10:02 pm Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Suffolk Police Department’s mobile command post sits ready for action on Wednesday. The bus will be displayed to City Council members during their retreat Thursday.

A long-awaited mobile command bus the Suffolk Police Department purchased with a grant will be unveiled today at the City Council retreat.

The $656,000 grant was awarded more than a year and a half ago by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“This bus is designed to have every need that may come up to address any situation we may encounter,” Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett said on board the bus on Wednesday.

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“It’s my job to make sure the people in the police department have everything necessary to be efficient, effective and do their jobs safe, and I’m going to continue to do that.”

The bus, a 2013 Freightliner, was built by Matthews Specialty Vehicles in North Carolina. It features 11 different televisions that also serve as computer monitors; two conference rooms; the driver’s compartment; five police radios as well as ham and marine radios; an antenna for over-the-air television as well as DirectTV; two phone lines; Internet; cameras that keep an eye on the surrounding area; four slide-out compartments that create more room in the conference rooms; and more.

The bus has the ability to operate emergency dispatching for the entire city or conduct hostage negotiations directly from the rear conference room.

Fulfilling a requirement of the grant, the bus is outfitted with a marine tracking system that identifies vessels approaching the area and gives their position. The asset would be especially helpful if the Coast Guard were to operate the bus closer to the coast during an emergency situation, Bennett said.

“This is a regional asset,” said Lt. Gerald Brandsasse, who was one of the project managers on obtaining and readying the bus. “You might see this at OpSail, or whenever the Coast Guard needs it.”

The bus can also respond as a mutual aid benefit to neighboring communities, Bennett said. Newport News and Portsmouth also have mobile command posts, Brandsasse said, but “theirs isn’t as advanced and as nice as this. We’ve done things to increase functionality, no matter what the scene is.”
In announcing the grant award last year, Bennett called the lack of a mobile command post “the most glaring weakness from a police standpoint” in the response to Suffolk’s April 2008 tornado. The vehicles from Newport News and Portsmouth responded after that incident.

More recently, he said Wednesday, the mobile command post would have been a nice asset to have during the response to the May 19 assault on a Suffolk police officer and subsequent daylong manhunt for the assailant in the Nansemond Parkway area.

During that incident, officials worked out of a fire department rehab bus, which is designed to help firefighters regroup during a large-scale fire response, not for police work.

“Before, we had to stand outside in the weather or sit inside our Crown Victoria,” Bennett said. “This allows you to do a lot of things you can’t do in a patrol car.”

Delivery of the bus was delayed by a lawsuit after Matthews Specialty Vehicles, which initially submitted a losing bid, accused the city of awarding the contract to a company whose bid Matthews said did not meet the city’s specifications.

The suit was dropped after the city canceled the contract and re-issued the request for bids, which was again awarded to the other company. However, the city soon canceled that bid when it discovered the other company was not registered with the State Corporation Commission at the time it submitted its bid. Matthews was then awarded the contract.

The bus will be on display Thursday at the City Council retreat at the Health and Human Services building, 135 Hall Ave. It will arrive around 10:30 a.m. and leave after 12:30 p.m.