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
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 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
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
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