Author(s): Staff Writer Date: September 30, 2016 Section: Crime By PETE DeLEA Daily News-RecordHARRISONBURG — Bridgewater police recently unveiled a brand-new tool designed to make it harder fordrivers to impersonate police officers.
The Smart Shield is a windshield with LED lights at the top that can display messages motorists can read from their rear-view mirror. The standard message states: "POLICE," but future products will include scrolling messages that can give motorists instructions.
As a demo, the department is the first in the U.S. to use the equipment. Smart Shield donated the windshield to the agency.
"I thought the concept was great to prevent law enforcement impersonators," said Bridgewater Police Department's Lt. Larry Papotnik. "I was definitely anxious to give it a shot."
While police impersonation isn't an everyday occurrence, Papotnik said, it does happen in the Valley.
In January, a state trooper spotted a dark blue 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix on Spotswood Trail near Judy Lane in McGaheysville. The vehicle appeared to display police-related items, including a mounted radar.
Police seized a firearm, emergency lights and a vest with "U.S. Marshal" written on it from the vehicle.
Police arrested Brent McDonald, 31, who later pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count and three felony counts of impersonating an officer and was sentenced to one year in prison.
Bridgewater was selected because the owner of the company that makes Smart Shield, DeAndre McKenzie, 32, of Lorton, has family in Rockingham County. The family connections led McKenzie to BPD.
McKenzie founded Smart Shield in 2009 following a high-profile police impersonation case in Spotsylvania County, where he lived at the time.
He said a 17-year-old girl was driving to a high school volleyball match when she was pulled over by someone she thought was a police officer, but it wasn't.
The girl was abducted, raped and left in a ditch to die, he said. She was found alive the next day.
McKenzie said the crime haunted him."I'm a family guy," he said. "I had to find a solution to help prevent this from happening again."
McKenzie thought of the idea and filed for a patent. He then began to perfect the product.
He first started working in his garage and kitchen."Our first [test] windshield was baked in our oven," McKenzie said. "We laminated two pieces of glass together."
In 2014, the company received approval for the patent and began searching for a manufacturer.
The company worked with Shenzhen Benson Automobile Glass to make the products. The windshield used in Bridgewater was made in China and installed in Northern Virginia.
McKenzie said he understands it might be cost-prohibitive for large departments to switch out the windshields all at once.
One drawback, they said, is if only one police vehicle in the fleet has the device, it might confuse motorists. They are recommending that police departments not advertise the windshield until the entire fleet is switched over.
McKenzie said he believes the concept will catch on.
"We see this becoming the mandated standard," he said.
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6267 or firstname.lastname@example.org