Have you ever wondered how detectives capture those really cool, real-time, incriminating photos, videos, and audio recordings of criminals? It seems as if the cops are mere inches away when the bad guys are committing their crimes. How do they do it? Simple, they roll out the heavy artillery – surveillance vans.
Police surveillance vans can be disguised as the vehicles used by plumbers, TV repairmen, cable installers, and even the plain and simple mini-vans driven by soccer moms. It’s what’s on the inside that makes them so unique. The front, driver’s compartment is almost like a normal van. The only difference is a hidden intercom system used for communicating with the officers concealed in the rear compartment.
A hidden door behind the two front seats is the entrance to a cockpit that would make Captain Kirk green with envy. The secret compartment in a police surveillance van is equipped with separate heating, air conditioning that uses dry ice for cooling, extremely sensitive listening equipment that’s capable of monitoring all four outside corners of the truck, night vision, thermal imaging, GPS, video and still cameras, blackout curtains, police radios, CB radios (for monitoring citizen conversations) telephone, computers with internet service, and various printers for photographs and reports. Some are even equipped with toilet facilities. The people who build these vehicles even make use of the luggage racks on top. They’re used to conceal the antennas for the high-powered radio equipment.
Rear compartment of a police surveillance van.
- Carbon Monoxide & Oxygen Level Alarms
- RCSS3000 Remote Control Surveillance Periscope
- Color Camera with 52-520mm Zoom Lens
- Motion Detector
- Sliding Bulkhead Door with Observation / Camera Port
- Bench Seat / Storage Compartment
- Joystick Control for Periscope
- Video Printer
- Air Conditioner & Propane Heater
- Video Cassette Recorders
- Professional Grade Programmable Receiver
Hidden intercom in center console of driver’s compartment.
360 degree surveillance periscope capable of video and still photography.
Joy stick for controlling periscope
Retracted periscope, When in use, the periscope has the appearance of a small roof fan.
Dave – The van we used belonged to another agency. All we had to do was pay for supplies and return it with a full tank of gas.
Bobby – Actually, I’ve never seen a van of this type with anything painted on it. They would stand out like a sore thumb in some neighborhoods. You can use an unmarked van in more places. However, the police do use vans like you mentioned for other purposes. That’s another blog topic.
SZ – The microphones are pretty sensitive. You can hear conversations (if there’s no other noise) from across a small parking lot. Maybe 40 or 50 feet away.
If the photos and other recordings are captured in a public place, then yes, they’re admissible.
This is very cool. When I worked at Ford you would be surprised what they can do for a person in a wheel chair.
Are they listening from microphones outside the car only ? How close do they have to be ?
Are photos and recording admisable in court ?
Thanks for this info Lee. One question, do the vans ever have signs on the side like “Bakery” or “Plumbing” or is that just for dramatic effect in movies and books?
Is it a local agency that owns this particular van, or is it shared between agencies of a task force?
The whole time we were writing about this for the kids’ book, I pictured the van as white. It’s very cool. The kids are going to love it.
Thanks for the clarification, Lee — gotta have conflict. “Only Trouble is Interesting.” And in case you’ve forgotten, I live in Florida, where leaving a car parked for a 5 minute venture to the bank results in returning to an unbearable oven. One of the many reasons I hate ‘errand running day’ because there’s never time for the car to cool off.
Elena – I knew I should have included one more photo, one of the huge bank of batteries that powers the equipment. I have one, too. The lower compartment below the equipment is a storage area for the power supply. The batteries recharge when the engine is running, or when hooked to an external power source, like an RV. The batteries last for several hours before recharging is needed.
No, you can’t hear sounds from the inside. The vans are very-well insulated and sound-proofed. However, movement must be kept to a minimum. The officers in the back should remain seated, or be very careful when moving from one station to another.
There’s really only room for two – three at the most – officers to work in the back.
What powers all that wonderful technology? And, can the power source be heard by someone walking by?
And, how many people would/could be working in back?
No donuts?? No coffee??? Gasp!!!
Terry – I failed to mention that the a/c only works as long as there’s ice. When that’s gone the temps can become pretty unbearable. Think of sitting in a hot car during the summer with no air conditioning, then amplify that a bit because of all the equipment and dark blackout shades and curtains. Once the van is in place you can’t leave until the assignement is complete. Could be hours or days.
The toilet thing is a bit deceiving. There’s no running water; therefore, when the a/c goes out things tend to heat up if you know what I mean.
Is the tension amping up yet? No, well think about this – there’s no way to get coffee and donut refills. The horror of it all…
Gee– toilets and comfortable looking seats! Where’s the tension? Where’s the conflict? How can we make our characters suffer with all this neat stuff available?
Very cool! I wish we had one of these! The only van our department ever had was a DARE van.
Dave – They normally carry a six-figure price tag. Fifteen years ago the cost was around $225,000 for the van and equipment.
You’re right, the only way some departments can afford these is through a grant. But, in some areas the state police have surveillance vans available for loan to smaller agencies. They do ask that departments be responsible for damages and fuel costs. Detectives who sign for the vehicles must attend a short training course on the operation of the equipment.
And Dave, the training course doesn’t include underwater operation.
This is an eye opener. Mainly because I just never thought about it. Great stuff, Lee.
Do you have any idea what that van would cost? Most departments would need grants to buy something like that.
Good morning, Lee.
So, tell me. With that periscope, is that van equipped to go underwater also?
Now THAT is cool!