This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How Do We Choose Police Cars?

I am often asked how we decide which cars to purchase for our patrol fleet. Some think we just pick the one that looks the most intimidating, but if that were the case, we would be driving Abrams Tanks. In reality, the decision involves a great deal of research and thought.

There are six different considerations that go into our decision on police vehicle purchases.  Each of them is discussed below.
1.      The design of the vehicle must be such that it meets the needs of police operations.  The car must have means to secure lots of equipment, and it must be capable of transporting a front-seat passenger and secured prisoners in the back seat.  This means that it must have four doors and sufficient interior room to allow for installation of a prisoner partition.  Essentially, the only vehicles that will meet this requirement are full-size sedans or sport-utility vehicles.
2.      The performance capabilities of the vehicle must be able to meet the needs of police operations.  Emergency responses, pursuits, and traffic enforcement all require 100% of a vehicle’s performance capability.  Officers are trained to use full acceleration and threshold braking for the entire duration of a response.  Seconds could mean the difference between life and death, or between the apprehension and escape of a violator.  In traffic enforcement, successful prosecution requires that the officer be able to maintain sight of a violator until initiating a traffic stop within the city limits.  This requires powerful acceleration.

3.      The vehicle must be designed and built in such a way that it will withstand the stresses encountered under typical operations.  Emergency response driving puts extreme stresses on the engine, brakes, cooling system, and chassis.  All of these things must be strong enough to handle the abuse.  In addition, police cars spend a great deal of time idling (traffic stops, perimeter posts, crashes, etc), which means that the cooling systems must be built to keep the cars from overheating in such conditions.  Finally, the computer, video system, radio, and emergency equipment can put a tremendous draw on the electric system.  The vehicle must have an alternator of sufficient capacity to handle the load.

4.      The maintenance requirements should not be so costly that they outweigh any initial savings recognized by the purchase of a less-expensive vehicle.  The only real alternative that offers an initial cost savings is the Chevrolet Impala.  While the car costs approximately 20% less than others, its front-wheel-drive design is likely to require additional maintenance costing much more over the life of the car.  Constant velocity (CV) joints must be maintained, and the front weight bias puts more wear on the brakes and tires, requiring that they be replaced more frequently.  Additionally, front-wheel-drive cars have a transverse-mounted engine, and the last time Gulfport Police used this layout, the engine mounts could not handle the stress and had to be replaced regularly.

5.      The vehicle should be designed and built in such a way that the city will be exposed to the least liability in the event of a claim resulting from its operation.  This is the primary reason we select vehicles that are marketed for pursuit driving.  Because the manufacturer represents that the vehicle is intended for such a purpose, it reduces the liability to the city if an officer were to cause or be involved in a crash while responding to an emergency or while involved in a pursuit.  If we were to purchase any other vehicle, the city would have to defend the use of the vehicle under such conditions.  Doing so would require evaluations in the manner conducted annually by the Michigan State Police, and we simply do not have the resources to do this.
6.      The vehicle should be replaced when its maintenance costs become excessive or when it is no longer reliable for emergency operations.  Gulfport patrol cars average about 20,000 miles per year each.  If we purchase new cars once per year, the schedule would result in replacement at 60K, 80K, or 100K miles.  While the 80,000 mile mark does not typically extend into the realm of unreliability, 100,000 does.  This is the point at which major maintenance must occur, and it also historically been the point when important components fail under pressure, including the engine, transmission, and brakes.  Due to the critical nature of these vehicles, it is in the best interest of the city to replace them before they are subject to those conditions.

For patrol use, the Gulfport Police Department should replace its fleet every 80,000 miles with rear-wheel-drive sedans marketed by their manufacturer for pursuit operation.  Only two such vehicles currently exist in the United States.  They are the Chevrolet Caprice and the Dodge Charger.  Both have similar performance and fuel economy ratings, but the Caprice costs approximately 10% more. The Charger is available with two engine options: a 292 bhp V-6 and a 370 bhp V-8. Using cylinder deactivation technology, the V-8 achieves EPA mileage ratings similar to the V-6, and under the Florida Sheriff’s Association purchasing agreement, the V-8 costs just $400 more.
All things considered, the Charger with V-8 engine is the best option currently available, which is why our fleet consists primarily of these cars.