AI in Patrol & Emergency Lighting

Feb. 27, 2024
Many don’t realize the large role artificial intelligence has in day-to-day law enforcement, and it can be a powerful asset when it's incorporated in tools like police lighting.

Artificial Intelligence is a term bandied about to describe almost anything that a manufacturer or sales team is trying to increase profitability from. In some instances, the “AI” is simply an automated function that is triggered by a mechanical switch. Sometimes, the “AI” is an automated function triggered by a series of circumstances detected by sensors, filtered through a processor, recognized and activated. The point is that “AI” is all too often used to describe anything from the simplest single action in response to a switch to the most complicated reporting based on a combined set of algorithms. When it comes to lighting on an emergency vehicle, marked or otherwise, what is “AI” and what benefit does it actually provide?

This article appeared in the January/February issue of OFFICER Magazine. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

It may seem hard to believe but the term “artificial intelligence” (AI) was coined in 1956 when a gentleman named John McCarthy organized the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on the subject. Specifically, AI is a branch of computer science that deals with the creation, management and use of intelligent systems that can see, hear, reason, learn and act autonomously. The idea of a machine that can learn and act autonomously scares a lot of people, most especially since Hollywood has made so much money off the concept of such systems “going off the rails.” One example is the Terminator movie series. But if people realized just how often the use AI each day, they’d realize how silly it is to be afraid of it in any way (Alexa, Google Home, ChatGPT and more are easily recognized examples).

In law enforcement, AI has been used to power predictive policing models, streamlining manpower assignments in the most efficient way to deter crime. It’s also been used to analyze and redact videos captured by dashboard cameras, body cameras and more. For the people who are trying to avoid AI for whatever reason, it’s far too late. AI has already saturated our computer systems, including communications and evidence management.

We first became aware of artificial intelligence as a control feature for patrol vehicle emergency lighting in the SoundOff Signal booth at the IACP Show some number of years ago. The feature served to deactivate the left alley light on a lightbar if the driver’s door opened indicating the driver was exiting the vehicle. Many older officers can relate to the feeling of being blinded by that light if they forgot to turn it off before having to jump out of their cruiser—perhaps to chase a suspect they had just seen down an alley on that side. When that feature was demonstrated, it was eye-opening and immediately begged the question: What other desirable functions and controls could AI bring to emergency lighting?

Since that time, artificial intelligence has evolved into a lot more than anyone could have predicted as little as five years ago. Many functions that used to be hard-wired and individually selected are now controlled by the AI “brain.”

One challenge that has been addressed is the automatic shut down of emergency lights to the rear of the vehicle when another emergency vehicle arrives to provide backup. In the 1990s it was realized that arriving officers were effectively blinded by the emergency lights of the vehicle in front of them. To address that situation, vehicles used multiple switches and buttons to enable lights both front and rear, and to disable each individually as well, so the patrol vehicle could be highly visible from either the front or rear selectively. The power of having only the patrol vehicle’s front or rear emergency lights activated was recognized not only for convenience but for officer safety. The challenge was that even with the function wired in, when the backup officer arrived, he/she was still walking up into the primary officer’s emergency light until someone reached it to flip a switch.

Now, not only can the primary vehicle’s lights be controlled by AI to turn off when backup arrives, the backup vehicle’s front emergency lights also are turned off, to not impair the primary officer’s vision.

Another “smart” feature SoundOff Signal controls are capable of is the synchronization of lights when more than one emergency vehicle is on a given scene. While some have argued that unsynchronized lights provide more and varied flashes creating greater visibility, others have pointed out how the random, unsynchronized flashing can cause “brain overload,” wherein the person has a problem processing the overwhelming light input. In some studies, strobe lights at a particular frequency/speed have caused dizziness, imbalance, nausea and more. In a handheld flashlight being directed against a potentially dangerous subject, that power is great. But on the side of a road or other crime scene, is that a reaction we want to potentially generate in every driver that goes by? Obviously not.

It may seem science-fiction(ish) but it’s easy to anticipate a day when communications systems will monitor calls, whether by voice or text on the on-board laptop, and based on the type of call, automatically activate the appropriate lights and siren as soon as an officer accepts the call—whether it’s by touching the screen or verbally acknowledging it. Imagine such functionality so that the officer can focus on driving and traffic and not have to concern himself with manipulating the siren. Imagine a system smart enough, when connected to GPS, to recognize that it’s within a certain distance of a call for service and turn off the sirens for a silent approach; again, without any action on the part of the officer.

Let’s just hope that officers never become so dependent on AI that we end up like the officers in the movie Demolition Man, where we ask a handheld intelligent unit what to do in a given circumstance and then do what we’re told. Thankfully, the human unit—the power of intuition, perception and compassion—will always be needed.

About the Author

Lt. Frank Borelli (ret), Editorial Director | Editorial Director

Lt. Frank Borelli is the Editorial Director for the Officer Media Group. Frank brings 20+ years of writing and editing experience in addition to 40 years of law enforcement operations, administration and training experience to the team.

Frank has had numerous books published which are available on,, and other major retail outlets.

If you have any comments or questions, you can contact him via email at [email protected].

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