When Were You Last in a Police Cruiser? Sorry, Meant Other than the Back Seat.

October 6, 2017


by Len Lathrop

The last time this reporter was inside a police vehicle was riding to New Jersey with Officer Kevin Sullivan and K-9 Dino to escort food donations after the 9/11 tragedy.  Well, in the 16 years since, these cruisers have become like police stations on wheels.  Just like cell phones, these technology-filled vehicles have become extremely ‘smart.’

Is that why cruisers are always left running?

Quite simply, yes.  The police vehicles of today are equipped with so many electronic tools that shutting down the engines would require the system to reboot each time.  Another consideration is fluctuating temperatures that could affect all the electronics on board, according to Sergeant Heath Savage of the Litchfield Police Department.  The 17-year veteran went through the various bells and whistles on the cruiser and explained the hows and whys behind each one.

Some police cruisers can take up to 15 minutes to be ready to roll for normal patrol operations, but, in a major emergency, as soon as the engine starts, the lights and siren activate and the first responder will be on the way.  What takes time is the computer used for communication with the station and to retrieve information from several different databases.  While most everyone knows how long it takes for your home computer to start, the cruiser’s computer and the other electronic equipment run off of a second battery that is charged by the alternator on the engine.

In addition to the computer needing to boot up, the radar system has a monitor and two radar antennas that are fixed in the vehicle, one facing forward and one out the rear window, which have to be tested every time the system is started to be sure they are working correctly.

Two of the newest tools used by law enforcement are the cruiser camera and officer’s microphone.  The camera mounted to look forward in front of the cruiser records information when the engine is on but doesn’t allow play back on the monitor in the cruiser until the emergency lights are turned on.  The unit mounted to the right of the driver at eye level also charges the officer’s personal microphone, which is clipped to their uniform epaulet and charged when in the monitor holder.  The camera images are downloaded to a master system wirelessly inside the station when the vehicle parks by the station, so supervisors can review the recording.  Did you know that an officer wearing a body microphone has to tell you that you are being audio recorded when talking with you? And cannot record in a private resident or home with out permission.

While mentioning things you might not know or have questions about, the sergeant explained, if the cruiser is running and you happen to get into the driver seat, there is a sequence that needs to occur to get the car out of park.  Just putting your foot on the brake pedal and moving the shift lever doesn’t make it happen.  Every officer has a second key to the cruiser, so when they get out, the doors lock with a push of a button.  While the vehicle can’t be taken out of park, this protects the contents of the unit.

The Litchfield vehicles are Ford Explorer with the Law Enforcement package model, which several departments across the country have experienced carbon dioxide issues.  Most documentation has shown that it is from the way all the equipment is installed.  To be safe, every cruiser has two monitors: one in the cigarette lighter that measures 3 parts per million and another mounted on the passenger side between the doors that measures 30 parts per million.  Sergeant Savage mentioned that the Litchfield fleet has not showed any discernible CO2.

Just a couple of other facts about the Litchfield cruiser … if you are bad and have to sit in the back seat, there is a Plexiglas divider to keep you from getting behind the driver or doing other not so bright stuff.  Obviously, since you are in the back of a police cruiser, you are most likely in handcuffs.

While this reporter was curious about why police vehicles are left running all the time, the reasons are many.  After getting this tutorial from Sergeant Savage, it became apparent that this is a police station on wheels.  In fact, there is more equipment when you open the rear door, mostly life and safety tools, such as an AED and basic first aid supplies, as well as a set of spike strips, road flares, a fire extinguisher and a lot more.

Special thanks to Sergeant Savage for the comprehensive tour.