You Asked: Police mobile command bus

Published 8:15 pm Saturday, November 9, 2013

I noticed during Driver Days that the Suffolk Police Department had its mobile command center on display. It appears to be a very specialized and expensive unit, and I am curious as to why it is needed, and if considered necessary, when and how would it be deployed in response to crimes in Suffolk. — R.B., Suffolk

The police department’s mobile command center, a 2013 Freightliner bus, was custom-made by Matthews Specialty Vehicles in North Carolina. The city purchased it with a $656,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It was delivered to the city in September 2012. Since then, it has been used for three days for tactical incidents and nine days for training for various police department functions, according to information provided by the city in response to a request.

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The other 26 days it has been used have been for events — Peanut Festival, Driver Days, July 4 events, Taste of Suffolk, parades, Norfolk’s OpSail and other miscellaneous events, including as a satellite precinct for last year’s presidential election.

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 DirecTV; 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 capability to operate police and fire dispatching for the entire city if something were to happen to the primary dispatch center. It contains a diesel generator that can fully power the bus for 48 hours.

Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett has said the mobile command center is needed for tactical or large-scale incidents that require prolonged police presence. He called the lack of one “the most glaring weakness from a police standpoint” in the response to Suffolk’s April 2008 tornado.

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

The busy also is equipped with a marine tracking system that identifies vessels approaching the area and gives their position, an asset that would be especially helpful to the Coast Guard during an emergency situation. The bus is a regional asset, and its use can be requested by other localities through mutual aid agreements.