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. 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 © 2015 Barry M. Baker