Vehicles & Accessories: The New Order

In the past 20-plus years, I’ve driven just about every patrol vehicle out there. For the most part, they’ve all been molded from the same basic blueprint: four doors, big trunk, medium to full size, V6 or V8, front- or rear-wheel drive, occasionally a SUV and usually derived from the Big-Three. But, in the last two to three years, there’s been a paradigm shift affecting what officers are, and will be, driving in the years to come.

Of course, no matter what vehicle is chosen, officers still need equipment in those cars to be able to do their job, but even that’s changing as departments continually search for the best balance between effectiveness, safety and fiscal constraints. In order to find out what’s on the minds of some of today’s police administrators, I spent some time with Chief Timothy Eads (Belle Meade, Tenn., PD) and Chief Michael Holman (White Bluffs, Tenn., PD). In addition to just being all around great guys and superior chiefs, they’re both passionate about finding new solutions to solving nagging issues.

In the April issue, we featured Eads’ innovative Volkswagen Passat  diesel patrol vehicles. Holman has deviated even more from the traditional police vehicle blueprint—the Toyota Prius. Yes, you read that right. According to Holman, the cars are working out beautifully for the needs of his community and their patrol needs. So, even if your department could never see the need for the Passat or Prius, the frame of reference is enlarging for police vehicles.

Efficient Choices Abound
The first place to start is with vehicle choices. With brand new offerings from Ford, GM and Chrysler, what we expect to see police driving has expanded. And even though Carbon Motors’ E7 hasn’t been produced, the presence of its design has been felt. In fact, Holman told me that the fact that the Carbon vehicle was using a diesel power plant had him thinking of researching alternative vehicles for patrol.

These days efficiency is king, and everyone’s looking for the best deal out there. Fuel is one of the big costs agencies face. Ford now actively promotes its Ecoboost technology in its new Interceptors. The Ecoboost-powered Interceptors perform really well, but what’s really intriguing is the emphasis on fuel economy and efficiency, something that never really appeared on the radar screen until a few years ago when discussing the Crown Vic, Charger or Tahoe.

Although there can be no doubt that the new Big Three LE vehicles are their best ever, the simple fact is that changing times means fuel economy and cost is key, and addressing that can mean choosing a radically different vehicle for patrol work.

LED Lighting
What goes inside and on the vehicle has radically changed, and nowhere is this more evident than the advancement in LED lighting technology. Holman points out that the proper application of LEDs in the Prius turn it into a “little blue fireball at night.” It’s amazing that it’s even possible to fit such effective lighting into a Prius, but that’s what the technology now allows.

Eads adds that LED lighting options have become very affordable and compact. In fact, after spending time in the Belle Meade PD’s Passat, I can say that the slim LED light bars mounted in the front and rear window areas are so effective that it would make little sense to add an overhead light bar. The in-car LED light assemblies are extremely bright, don’t obstruct vision and make the car more fuel efficient. Furthermore, the limited effectiveness offered by overhead bars in intersection clearing can be very effectively solved by slim line LED lights mounted on the side mirrors and interior cage assembly as installed in the Passat. Add in rear tray LED light assemblies, as well as strobes and LEDs at all four corners, and the argument for an overhead bar shrinks even more.

Eads says that the interior mounting also reduces wear as the light assemblies don’t experience fading and damage from the sun, car washes, etc. He also says that LED assembly pricing these days makes it within reach of every agency. This area is rapidly changing the way in which patrol vehicles are outfitted.

In-Car Computing
Another interesting trend is the migration toward tablet computers, like the iPad and the Panasonic ToughPad, instead of traditional laptops and MDCs. This mirrors the trend in the personal computing world where the laptop market segment has given up significant ground to tablets.

Eads says the iPad will allow his officers the ability to run the department’s crash, query and report software. They’re more portable, lighter and potentially safer in a crash because they don’t require a bulky mount for support. They’re also cheaper, says Eads, and allow officers to use existing WiFi networks to eliminate the need for expensive cell service. Holman says that, while his department uses laptops currently, he plans to switch to tablets in the near future for many of the same reasons. So, as with LEDs, the introduction of smaller, lighter, cheaper and still-powerful options like tablets is changing computing in modern patrol vehicles.

Smile for the Camera
A third trend relates to the Facebook, YouTube and social media revolution—everything is recorded these days, which can be good and bad.

As an example, my recently purchased Motorola Droid Razr Maxx “cell phone” can film at a video rate of 1,080-pixel resolution. Add in millions of cell-toting citizens and it becomes clear that what you do now can be on YouTube in minutes, regardless of whether the video tells the entire story or not. Their solution: Eads and Holman equip every vehicle with a camera and every officer with a body-worn camera. That way, the entire event is recorded.

I’m a huge advocate of in-car cameras, and found them to be an excellent tool in the field for evidence and self-protection. Times have changed, and like it or not, that means that in the eyes of both Eads and Holman, both in-car and body cameras have become mandatory to protect officers, administrators and even the community.

There’s more technology out there than ever. What you choose to buy really comes down to the size of the agency and the community it serves. Certainly, ALPR has become popular, and it can be very effective. Compact radar units, e-citation handheld hardware, a wide range of MDCs—all can improve officer efficiency and safety. 

In the end, you may have noticed a trend in this article of its own: it’s all about needs, not wants in today’s patrol environment. Conventional thinking simply doesn’t work anymore. The economy doesn’t support it. The ease with which officers can be recorded at any time and place doesn’t support it. Time lost to mismatched or outdated computer options doesn’t support it, and razor-thin budgets mean that every option needs to be on the table. For Chiefs Eads and Chief Holman, it’s led to unconventional solutions.


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