Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reader Poll: Best Ever American Police Vehicle?

Dodge police car

My attendance at the during my attendance at the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association conference this weekend,  there was a police car competition. Some Chevy Impala of my buddies won for their motorcycles (not cars, I know), and that got me to thinking. What is the best American cop car ever?

AskMen.com has a pretty good rundown of the Top 10: International Police Cruisers, which is a relatively current top 10 list of police vehicles internationally. Included is are some exotics, like the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 (their #1), and the Porsche 911 (#2), but only one production American car, the Ford Mustang GT. I don’t really count the Carbon E7 because it’s not a production car (see our popular post on the Carbon here). I think all of them are nice, but they seem to have primarily emphasized pursuit speed and handling, and their criterion is probably different than an American police executive’s ideas on the same subject.

So this post will emphasize the historical best here in America, almost in the same way we would ask, “What was the best football team in history?” Or, “What is the best boat design in history for ocean travel?” The reason I use those examples is that a police vehicle has a purpose. It’s not a race car, or a passenger car, or a pickup truck, or a battering ram, but it has to do all of those things. The reason we didn’t just use the fastest American production cars for police vehicles on a regular basis is that they can’t do everything well, just go fast.

So, to start, let me say that I’m not a police officer, nor am I a former police officer, though I work in the law enforcement equipment industry. I actually drive a Hemi-powered Dodge Charger police vehicle almost every day, and drove many other police vehicles in my former employ as a civilian at a municipal department. My point is that, though I am around them almost every day, I am not an expert in police work, nor police cars as a user. So I’ll approach this from a research perspective, and try to gather enough information so that I can help us form a good opinion, and those who drive a particular car as officers can then comment or email to call me names! Sound good?

Ford Police Interceptor

OK, so what are our criterion to judge excellence in a cop car?

  1. Performance: It’s gotta be a good deal faster than most civilian cars, acceleration, braking, handling, and top speed have to be respectable, but not the  best on the road.
  2. Cabin space: Our car has to carry lots of cop stuff. Let’s see, what do cops have to carry (besides people, which is it’s own criterion)? Guns, lots of guns. Sorry, I was remembering that scene in the Matrix. I digress. Most cars now carry a long gun, typically an AR-15 or some type of pump shotgun.  A big duty bag with lots of stuff, like ticket books, report forms, accident forms, small writing pads, a digital still camera, and stuff. Ah, can’t leave without the XM or Sirius radio, or iPod. And now we have lots of standard equipment like lights (lots), cameras, computers, moving radar units, radios, printers, and even automated license plate readers. Anything I forgot? And don’t say donuts, though it may be true!
  3. Driver room: room enough for the big guys to work the streets. I’ve worked with officers that are almost six foot eight, and seen many over 300 pounds, and quite a few that were closer to five foot tall than six. In other words it has to hold the big ‘uns and small ‘uns. And it has to be comfortable enough and roomy enough for the officer, all the gear on his belt, all while not putting him (or her) in the hospital for back pain after a few 12-hour shifts. And still be able to see out of the car so as not to hit things, if possible.
  4. Passenger room: We mean in the back. The front passenger seat is the desk drawer for a cop. It holds that big duty bag and anything else that should be in quick reach. We mean behind the driver, usually in a “cage” of either bars, mesh, or plexiglass to keep the bad guys and good guys apart. This is not as critical as you’d think. For some reason the officers' I’ve spoken to don’t care as much about passenger comfort as you’d think. Huh? Not sure why.
  5. Cargo room: Last, but not least, room for lots of junk in the trunk. Let’s see, we need some flares, usually a box. Slim jim for opening locked doors. Cones for local PDs to block off streets. Caution tape. Gloves for keeping bodily fluids off your hands, and needles from poking you. Uuuuuuh, how about some rain gear? Yup. A broom to sweep glass off the road. Sometime there’s even a spare tire, but not usually. Lemeseeanthingelse? Probably, but I’ll rely on you guys to tell me what I forgot.
  6. Miscellaneous: How’s the air conditioning or heat? Easiest to get in and out of? Best glove box? Other stuff not covered?

Who are the contenders?

I think they must be a car that is commonly used as a police car. For that reason I’ll exclude things that you may have seen, like Mustangs, Corvettes, Camaros, and the like. Those are either a one-off stealth traffic enforcement car, or used for education programs like D.A.R.E. So they’re out. We’re going to judge vehicles which are produced by a manufacturer for police fleet use, including SUVs. Some suggestions:

Chevy TahoeDodge Charger Police Package
Ford Escape
Ford Police Interceptor (Crown Vic)
Dodge Diplomat/Plymouth Gran Fury
Chevy Impala
Chevy Caprice Classic
Chevy Caprice LT1
Ford Fairmont
Dodge Intrepid
Plymouth Volare
Ford Gran Torino
Chevy Citation
Ford Expedition
Ford Explorer
Chevy Lumina
Dodge Monaco
Dodge Charger (2006-2009)

Please vote in the comments: let us know what make, model, year, and why you rate it the best.



Anonymous said...

I like the good old fashioned Crown Victoria.

Nathan Teodoro said...

How old fashioned? Someone I used to work with agrees. He actually weighed all of them that he'd driven since the '70s and thinks todays Crown Vic is the best ever, all things considered.

Dojo Rat said...

I'll take that '71 Dodge Polara!

Good to see you back Nathan

John Vesia said...

A friend of mine got a 72 AMC Matador from his police chief brother. We're going back 30 years ago. This thing had a specially modified 401 4-barrel that tore up the road. It was classified as an "interceptor". The regular cruisers came with a 360 engine. What a sleeper this car was.

Nathan Teodoro said...

Thanks DR! I am late on commenting back, but appreciate our little community here.

John, I'll try to look that one up. Thanks!