Patrol Perfect

Vehicle purchasing considerations to meet your patrol needs



JP Molnar | From the May 2013 Issue Monday, May 20, 2013

A patrol vehicle can help or hurt your ability to do your job, depending if the purchase process was focused on needs vs. wants. We live in fortunate times where the choices are greater than ever, but it’s only a good choice if it meets your patrol needs. And sometimes fulfilling your vehicle needs requires sacrificing performance or capabilities in other areas.

Making the right decision comes from conducting a proper needs analysis that itemizes the core responsibilities and functions that the patrol vehicle must meet in order to support the officer. Sure, everyone would love to stick their foot deep into a V8 or twin-turbo V6 that today’s Charger, Caprice and Interceptor offer, but the thrill might prove short lived if you work where the longest acceleration distance is a couple of blocks or you work in 3–4 feet of snow on a regular basis.

In order to help you wade through the many choices in the marketplace, consider the following questions when conducting a needs analysis for your next patrol vehicle. The list isn’t exhaustive, but it should help you select the best vehicle solution for your agency.

Patrol Environment
•    What’s your primary patrol environment?
•    What’s the percentage of freeway to urban driving for most beat areas?
•    What’s the average speed of civilian traffic in most patrol areas?
•    Does the patrol environment consist of numerous traffic lights? Or is it wide open with an occasional stop sign or traffic signal?
•    Do typical patrol areas incorporate mountain or narrow roads? Off road?
•    How far away from the nearest substation or primary station do officers need to drive in the course of patrol?
•    How far are officers from fuel sources if they need it?
•    What’s the primary environmental condition (hot, cold, etc.) that your officers drive in?  
•    What are road conditions in most beat areas? Smooth pavement, rough roads, deep intersection drainage dips, grooved concrete, potholes, etc.?
•    Do your officers regularly need to cross unpaved center medians on freeways or parkways?
•    How much space do officers typically have to park their vehicles?
•    Are streets mostly narrow with vehicles lining both sides with many angular turns? Are they inner city with multiple alleys, or are they multi-lane, wide streets free of multiple obstacles with sweeping turns and lots of maneuvering room?
•    Is the patrol environment typically low speed or high speed? (Below 35 mph or above?)
•    What’s the biggest patrol sector in square miles? What’s the smallest?
•    How many arrests do your officers make in a year? In a given day, how many prisoners are transported in a patrol vehicle, and for what distance?

•    How many officers typically are in the vehicle at a given time?
•    What’s the ratio of male to female officers in your department?
•    What’s the average height of your officers?
•    How much equipment are officers required to carry on their duty belts?
•    What other equipment is considered optional for them to carry?
•    What feedback have you received from your current officers about the performance, likes and dislikes of your current patrol vehicles?

•    What’s your current primary patrol vehicle?
•    Is it a vehicle or a motorcycle, golf cart, quad, mountain bike, etc.?
•    What major strengths of that vehicle would you like to keep in your next patrol vehicle?
•    What would you like your next patrol vehicle to do that your current one isn’t doing?
•    How have your operational needs changed since you last purchased patrol vehicles?
•    What’s the most important feature that your next patrol vehicle must possess?
•    What would you like to avoid all together?
•    What’s more important—carrying capacity or acceleration?
•    How important is high-speed handling?
•    How important is low-speed maneuverability?
•    How much time do your officers spend backing up and how important is rearward visibility? (i.e., backing up in a tight sally port vs. regularly using a drive-through configuration)
•    What’s more important to you: A quick 0–40 mph or 60–100 mph time?
•    What’s the top speed that’s realistic for officers?  What vehicle are they using to achieve that in?
•    Are your vehicles used primarily for reactive purposes like answering calls or engaging in proactive behaviors like traffic enforcement? If both, what’s the ratio between the two?
•    Are there other duties that your patrol vehicles are required to perform? (i.e., Carrying bike patrol items, forensic evidence collection materials, crash investigation tools, etc.)
•    Is AWD or 4WD important?
•    What are the fleet fuel economy numbers of your current vehicles? What would you like it to be?
•    Are hybrid or electric vehicles an option?
•    Do you install prisoner cages in all of your patrol vehicles?
•    What equipment, like MCTs, light bars, etc., will be transferable to your new patrol vehicle?
•    What equipment will need to be located in the driver’s compartment (i.e., MCT, radar, etc.)
•    What new items would need to be purchased?
•    Are your current fleet management capabilities sufficient to service today’s newer and much more complex patrol vehicles, or will you need to rely on an outside source? If the latter, do you have a local dealer or certified mechanic that can work on your patrol vehicles?
•    Do you prefer to purchase a “turn-key” vehicle from the manufacturer, an up-fitted vehicle from a third-party vendor, or do you normally build the patrol cars yourself? Will your current strategy work with a new vehicle?
•    Given that specialized vehicles exist from different manufacturers for specific LE situations, will your normal patrol fleet consist of several vehicles from different manufacturers or be uniform across the fleet?
•    What’s the operational mileage window for your next patrol vehicle?
•    Is it a requirement that the vehicle you purchase be an American brand and built here in the United States?
•    What’s your purchasing timeline?

Now What?
Once you’ve answered all of the questions above, and hopefully added a few more of your own, you should have a reasonably accurate and targeted idea of the type of vehicle that will best fulfill your next-generation patrol needs.
If the answers lead you to a high-performance, smaller, better handling option, then vehicles like the Dodge Charger, Ford Interceptor and Chevrolet Caprice might fit the bill. If it’s a mix of performance, handling and storage, then the Ford Interceptor SUV, Dodge Durango and Chevy Tahoe PPV might work best. If your officers need lots of space, work in inclement weather and need ground clearance without a need for explosive acceleration or top speed, the Ford Expedition and 4WD Tahoe could work. And if your agency wants to think outside the box all together, then a completely different vehicle like the Volkswagen Passat TDi that Bellevue, Tenn., PD uses—a hybrid, electric vehicle or similar—might be perfect.

Regardless of what you ultimately choose, you’ll increase the likelihood of meeting the needs of your officers and community if you take the time to do a thorough needs analysis before you make your purchasing decision.

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JP MolnarJP Molnar, Law Officer's Cruiser Corner columnist, is a former state trooper and has been teaching EVOC since 1991 for numerous agencies.


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