You'll have plenty of opportunities to use your
lights and siren, and you'll tire of them soon
enough...especially the siren. You're going to be
spending a lot of time inside your police car, and
you need to understand your responsibilities
regarding the care and maintenance of that police
There's a lot more to the operation of a police car
beyond emergency response driving and vehicle
pursuits. You need to understand that the police
car can affect your career in many more ways than
you might imagine.
It's safe to say that the majority of disciplinary
actions against police officers result from
circumstances involving the police car. While very
few people would ever drive their personal cars over
curbs, you'll learn that police officers do it with
regularity. If you're ever foolish enough to drive
onto a golf course, you'd better be certain the
suspect you're chasing is nothing short of a mass
Some police officers take the responsibility for their
cars seriously right from the beginning. Some have
to be burned once to get the message while others
exhibit a serious learning disability when it comes to
learning from experience.
Aside from police officers being killed in traffic
accidents at a higher rate than any other line of
duty death, police officers maintain an abysmal
record for the run of the mill property damage
accidents. Besides tearing up those front ends on
curbs, you can count on police officers to find poles
to back into or hitting just about any fixed object
imaginable. Ditches, depressions and speed bumps
claim their toll as well.
Police departments have been trying to solve the
problem of vehicle abuse for decades, and they're
still behind the curve. Without a doubt, the best
solution has been the "take home car" policy that
you'll find here and there among police
departments. When a police officer has the
exclusive use of a police car, that officer is going to
treat it as his or her own.
When I was a special operations lieutenant, I had
the district traffic officer under my command. The
department had purchased nine Ford Mustangs;
one for each district traffic officer.
That was one pretty car, and it had all the police
markings. It didn't have a roof bar light, but it was
loaded with grill lights; alternating flashing
headlights; and red and blue lights for the front and
rear windows. The right side bucket seat was
replaced with the latest computer hardware giving
the interior the appearance of a cockpit.
In a police department where the duplication of car
keys was conducted like a hobby, the traffic officer
urged that the keys to the Mustang be restricted to
himself and his sergeant. Above the objections of
the shift commanders, the district commander
granted the restrictions on the Mustang.
One overcast day I was passing by one of the traffic
officer's locations where he would conduct radar
enforcement. The traffic was light, and I had to
smile when I saw the officer using the slow time to
put a fresh coat of wax on the Mustang.
Cops simply hate to be denied anything, and I
fought a lot of battles with shift commanders who
demanded use of the Mustang for their own traffic
enforcement initiatives. I'd simply point out to them
that they already had police cars with red and blue
lights and sirens.
Needless to say, that Mustang had a longer -- and
painless -- life span than its eight brothers.
Since take home cars are rare, you'll be operating a
police car that's in use 24 hours a day. It is so
important that you conduct a thorough inspection
of that car each time you take possession. If you
accept a car with unreported body damage;
undercarriage damage, or any other problem like no
oil or transmission fluid, it's on you. If you think
that another police officer would not, knowingly,
pass on damage to you, you've got a lot to learn.
Remember those curbs? Let's say that during your
tour of duty, you get a flat tire. You go to your
trunk only to find that the spare tire is flat. Okay,
one of the other officers in your squad loans you
his spare. Once you're up and running, you head
for the shop to get his spare and your flat spare
replaced. As the mechanic removes your spare
from the trunk, he points out to you that the rim is
bent. What's a bent rim mean? It means that you
just bought yourself an accusation of vehicle abuse.
A bent tire rim is a traffic accident. If you're really
lucky, the accident was previously reported, and the
tire was not replaced as it should have been.
However, that possibility is about as remote as any
possibility can get. Another indication of a cover up
might be evident by the spare tire being bolted
down with the big dent underneath. Since you
failed to inspect the tire, the responsibility for the
abuse falls on you.
This example of the assignment of responsibility
may seem arbitrary, but it really isn't. Had you
inspected the tire, the responsibility would have
been placed on the officer you relieved. That officer
may be as innocent as you if he or she had not
inspected the tire. Things could get worse.
Suppose you didn't get the flat, but the officer who
relieves you discovers the bent rim, and he or she is
actually the one who bent the rim.
When it comes to accepting responsibility for vehicle
abuse, some police officers justify their avoidance of
that responsibility by passing along the abuse as in
the tire example. Their warped thinking dictates
that they have to be caught versus simply accepting
responsibility. They seem to forget that criminals
think the same way.
Damage and abuse aren't the only things for which
you must inspect. Contraband frequently has a
way of finding its way into police cars. The most
common items of contraband will consist of guns,
knives, drugs or drug paraphernalia. Aside from
the bad guys leaving bad things in your car, you
have to remember that internal investigation units
like to put drugs, or items that look like CDS
(controlled dangerous substances) in your car to
see if you properly recover and submit the drugs.
It's pretty easy to spot the cop stings. Bad guys
try to conceal the contraband while the IAD will
leave the contraband in plain view. You can easily
avoid the nuisance of the sting by always locking
In all probability, your department will hold you to a
higher standard when it comes to assessing your
level of fault in a traffic accident. Your department
could classify departmental vehicle accidents as
"preventable" and "non-preventable." Striking a
fixed object will always earn you the " preventable"
label. Let's say you're responding to an emergency
with lights and siren. You come to a red light, and
you come to a full stop before proceeding as
departmental procedure requires. You make sure
the traffic with the green light is stopped. However,
as you enter the intersection, you're struck by
some idiot who uses the curb lane to pass the
stopped traffic. While the operator of the other car
will be cited for failing to yield to an emergency
vehicle, the accident will still be classified as
"preventable" since you didn't proceed without get
About the only time your accident will be classified
as "non-preventable" is when you're rear ended, or
your car is struck when legally parked and
unattended. Let's say you stop in a traffic lane to
block a traffic accident scene or some other
obstruction, and your rear ended. As long as your
emergency lights are activated, the accident would
be "non-preventable." If you fail to activate your
emergency lights...well, you know the answer.
If you take notice of unattended police cars, you
might get the impression that police officers are not
proficient at parallel parking even when a space of
three car lengths exist. Don't get in the habit of
just parking in a traffic lane, because you can. If
you're responding to an emergency, that's one
thing. If you're just too lazy to walk a few steps,
you could regret leaving your car where someone
lazier and less attentive than you runs into it.
A Most Embarrassing Circumstance
I am amazed that more police cars aren't stolen. It
is no exaggeration when I say that better than
ninety percent of police officers, under varying
circumstances, leave their police cars unattended
with the car running and the key in the ignition.
The most common instance is when the officer
jumps from his or her car to engage in a foot
chase. Imagine yourself chasing some guy in a big
circle only to watch him jump into your police car
and speed off...and it's happened.
A big city police officer left his department to take a
job as a police chief in a smaller jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, along with his experience, he took a
bad habit with him. He left his car running and
unattended along with the shotgun. Sure, the
shotgun was locked in the trunk, but the key for
the trunk was on the ring with the ignition key.
Having the car stolen was bad enough, but having
the suspect commit suicide with the chief's shotgun
was a lot worse.
Every time I'd question officers as to why they left
their cars running and unattended, the response
was always the same, "I didn't have time."
You always have time. After you jam the gear shift
into park, you simply turn and remove the key with
a downward movement of your hand.
"You need to understand that the police car
can affect your career in many more ways
than you might imagine." ~ Barry M. Baker
How many times have you watched a police car pass
with lights and siren and thought to yourself, that
could be me? I don't know about women, but I do
know that young men like the idea of racing to the
rescue in the grand manner the police car provides.
|Copyright © 2019 Barry M. Baker