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 car.
There's a lot more to the operation of a police car beyond emergency response driving and vehicle pursuits; which, by the
way, I cover in my book. You need to understand that the police car can affect your career in many more ways than you
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 murderer.
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
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 your car.
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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 hit.
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.
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.