Insider Secrets About Police Cars That They'd Rather You Didn't Know
As law-abiding citizens, the closest way most of us will get to experiencing the inside of a police car is watching a scene from a movie or television show — and those don't tell us much. We see these vehicles everywhere, yet we know little about their secret gadgets and capabilities. They’re forbidden secret mystery boxes on wheels.
But now you don't have to commit a crime to find out what’s inside. Here are insider secrets the cops would rather you didn't know.
The GPS Tracker Gun
It sounds like a device straight out of a James Bond movie: The driver flicks a switch, and a front bumper-mounted housing shoots a device that attaches itself to the rear of the car it’s pursuing. That device is a remote GPS unit that can track a perp via a computer.
The device is real. It's designed to mitigate the risks of a high-speed chase and perhaps track a suspect's vehicle when they think they’ve gotten away. It's called StarChase, and some police departments’ cars are already using the technology.
Decoy police cars are mostly used as deterrents for traffic violations like speeding. They can either be real police cars with no one inside, out-of-service cars or sometimes just signs or rigs that give the illusion of being real police cars.
Sometimes they're used in a sneaky way, making drivers think they’ve just cleared a speed trap or DUI checkpoint and can relax. But an awaiting cop sits in a real car down the road. They're mostly found in high-traffic areas and on freeways.
Italian Police Lamborghinis
Well, not all Italian police drive Lamborghinis. But there are a few of them in service donated by the manufacturer in Italy, England and South Africa. These unbelievably cool vehicles can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.
But the police in Italy don't bring these vehicles to just any situation. Because of their speed capability, they’re specialized vehicles uniquely suited for the delivery of organs for transplantation or for emergency highway situations. No one’s going to risk damaging a Lamborghini for a routine traffic stop or some casual patrol.
If you were a police officer, imagine the kinds of dicey situations that you might have to put yourself in the middle of. One preemptive measure for the transport of suspects in the back of the police car is a hard, non-upholstered seat. It's not to purposely make the ride uncomfortable, though.
Rather, if a suspect is injured, sick or drunk, it's much easier to hose down a mess than to be stuck cleaning a cloth interior. There's also less of a chance a suspect can hide contraband.
Advanced Surveillance Technology
Advanced technology in police cars is the norm rather than the exception these days. Most cars use a surveillance system called DDACTS, which stands for Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety.
It works like this: The car automatically surveils its surroundings in real time, takes stills and sends these to a centralized police database, kind of like their bat-computer. The computer data is synched and continuously updated by all the cars in the fleet. This makes sure everyone has up-to-date information and no one is left out of the loop.
The Secret Language of Sirens
Police sirens have markedly different sounds for different situations. If you live in the city, you might hear the "piercer" the most, which is intentionally designed to have a piercing sound for high-traffic and congested areas. Another one is called the "wailer," which is for police situations on highways or freeways.
Sometimes the police need to signal to get cars out of the way or to get people to move on. For this, police use a siren with a combination of lower- and higher-pitch sounds called "the howler."
Once the realm of science fiction, surveillance drones are part of regular everyday life now. Some police cars come equipped with specialized drones, which are perfectly suited to monitor an emergency situation before first responders can get there. They're also great for finding suspects fleeing (or hiding from) the law.
Some drones are equipped with thermal imaging technology in addition to their optical zoom cameras. They’re small and easy to transport, so it was only a matter of time before they became perfect for police departments and their fleets.
The Rumbler Siren
The rumbler is a recent addition to the sounds a police siren can make. It's a specialized siren with low-frequency sounds. In modern times, drivers may not hear the police siren because of their own loud car speakers, a conversation on a headset or loud screaming or talking from within the car. Or maybe all that at once!
The rumbler has a sound that pushes through all that high-frequency noise with low-frequency tones, an effect similar to a subwoofer that produces bass frequencies. You don't just hear it; you feel it.
Teddy Bears as Standard Issue
Too often in the line of police work, police officers encounter traumatic situations in which a child is involved, such as in an auto accident. The Dutch police, as part of the standard-issue accessories in their cars, carry teddy bears to help soothe children and get them through tough situations. It's also great for distracting them with something else if they need medical treatment on the spot.
Though it's not as common, there are anecdotal stories of some American cops coming equipped with stuffed animals for the same reason.
Facial Recognition Technology
If you’re worried that facial recognition technology will one day come to police departments everywhere...sorry. It's too late for that. Facial recognition for law-enforcement use is already here, and some cops have these devices in their cars.
Some of the devices that are available are somewhat concealed and don't look anything like fancy cameras. One facial recognition system can be so inconspicuous and straightforward that it can be installed on virtually any vehicle, so it's likely that, in the future, most police cars will have something similar.
In an ordinary car, an alternator provides power to the dashboard, the instruments, all the lights and the speakers. It also helps turn the engine over when you start the vehicle. A police car, on the other hand, is no ordinary car.
It needs a boost for its high-powered spotlight, its on-board computer, sirens, loudspeaker, communication devices and surveillance equipment. This requires a huge upgrade in the electricity-output department. Couple that with all the wear and tear, and you can see why a cop car needs a hefty alternator that can handle the load.
LAPD Electric Police Cars
More and more vehicles on the road are electric or hybrid, and certain police department fleets are starting to accept that trend. Believe it or not, the very first police vehicle was all-electric, and now it looks like history is coming full-circle.
Starting in 2006, BMW supplied the LAPD with 100 electric police vehicles at a price tag of $1.4 million. That's actually a great deal for taxpayers, with each car coming in around $14,000. The police chief hailed it as a great move for the environment.
Outrunning the Chevy Caprice
Most police cars are built for speed, and the Chevy Caprice police car is the fastest in North America. According to a report in USA Today, the Chevy Caprice tops out at 155 miles per hour. That's more than twice most speed limits.
Other cars give it a run for its money, though. For example, the modified Ford Taurus police car can go from zero to 60 in 5.7 seconds. But, if the Caprice were on the German Autobahn, most civilian cars would probably outrun it. Because, you know...Germany.
Police are often the first responders in an emergency situation, and as such, police require some medical training and carry medical equipment as part of the standard issue in their cars. Most cars are equipped with automatic external defibrillators, or AEDs.
The AED can diagnose anyone with an irregular heartbeat that’s symptomatic of cardiac arrest and then deliver a shock to get the heart back to a regular rhythm. Though police officers aren’t paramedics, training that includes basic first aid, CPR and defibrillation helps save lives every year.
Hours Instead of Miles
As one famous Indiana Jones quote goes, "It's not the age, it's the mileage." However, it's a bit flipped with police cars. It's not just the mileage that's an accurate gauge of wear and tear. It's also hours of service.
Police cars have a special device that measures how many total hours a car has been in use. Police cars must remain idle for long periods of time to keep onboard computers cool. Mileage alone can't account for the wear on a hard-working engine.
Police Dogs’ Special Cars
K-9 units come with their own police handlers who must undergo rigorous specialized training. They also require special cars to accommodate each pooch's needs. The dogs have to be kept cool while the cars idle, so the AC units must be reliable and work at different temperatures.
The cars must have reinforced cages to protect the dogs in case of accidents. They also have additional equipment for the dogs, like harnesses and muzzles. The back seat is split into two areas — one just for the dog.
And you thought Italians drove fast. Some units in Dubai drive Bugatti Veyrons, which have a brain-melting speed of up to 250 miles per hour. This holds the world record for the fastest police car. That's faster than what a passenger jet requires to take off!
Dubai is one of the richest cities in the world, and its police car fleet reflects that. In addition to the Bugatti, some officers drive Porsche Panameras, Bentley GTs or Aston Martin One-77s. To outrun the Dubai police, you need a jet.
The PIT Bumper
Ever notice the cage-style bumpers on the fronts of police cars? That's called the PIT bumper, an acronym for "pursuit intervention technique." They’re designed to end a high-speed vehicle chase by slightly bumping the rear of the pursued car, thus altering its trajectory and sending it into a spin.
Though it's still possible to try the technique without the PIT bumper, it assumes a much greater risk of damage or loss of control for the driver. Yet another reason that running from the police is a bad idea.
The Crown Victoria’s Bulletproof Doors
The Crown Victoria was one of the most popular police cars of all time, partially because it was so reliable and easy to maintain. For about a five-year period in the ‘90s, the Ford Crown Victoria dominated 80% of the police-car market in the United States.
They went out of fashion because they underperformed in terms of horsepower. Starting in 2006, the Crown Vic hoped for a comeback with a great new standard feature: Kevlar-reinforced bulletproof doors. It wasn't enough, though. The Crown Vic is all but gone.
There are far more unmarked cars in circulation than you might think. Most drivers hate the notion of an unmarked cop car — they seem sneaky and underhanded and are used mostly for minor traffic violations. What most drivers don't know is that you can recognize an unmarked car if you're paying attention.
The first tell-tale sign is the light bar, which is right above the dash or built onto or inside the grille. Also, look for multiple antennae or funny-looking side mirrors. Your best bet is just to drive safely.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition
Ever wonder how you might have been caught with an outdated registration by a cop who could barely see your license plate number? Chances are they had help from a computer. Most cop cars now have automatic number plate recognition, which uses a scanning camera on the police car to constantly surveil.
But expired registrations are not their primary targets. The computers are always on the watch for stolen cars or cars involved in serious crimes. Though not every police vehicle has the technology, it’s now pretty common.
Ever wonder what car German police use to patrol the Autobahn? The answer is the Mercedes-Benz Brabus Rocket. Though it's not quite as fast as the Dubai Police Bugatti, it comes pretty close, topping out at a whopping 228 miles per hour. As mentioned before, that's flying speed!
The car is a beast with a 6.3L V12 engine to accommodate its ludicrous speed. Technically not the fastest engineered car in the world, one model still set the land speed record for cars that are street legal. In Italy, of course.
Assault Weapon-proof Doors
Yes, it’s true; some police cars do have bulletproof doors. But no matter what you see on television or in the movies, most of those doors can only withstand small-arms fire that uses low-caliber bullets. At least, that was true up until a few years ago.
There are new police car doors that are capable of stopping .30 caliber bullets. That kind of ammunition might come from an assault rifle or other high-powered weapons. The doors still won't stop everything that an officer might face, but they’re a good start.
Fingerprint Access for Computers
As anyone might guess, a police computer is loaded with sensitive information that would be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. Though it’s unlikely that a criminal might get access to a cop's computer inside their car, the computer is still safeguarded for that risk.
In addition to a password, most mobile police computers inside the cars require fingerprint access for the officers to use them. So, in the unlikely event a perpetrator gets access to a police car, they still can't access any information or anything else the computer does.
Most Police Cars Are Virtually Race Cars
It's just logical — if you want to catch bad guys, you have to drive a fast car. For that reason, police car fleets have some of the fastest street-legal cars in the whole country, with respectable horsepower to boot.
That wasn't always the case here. The Ford Crown Victoria, which was the most popular cop car for years, was underwhelming in the power and speed departments. These days, with the fastest police cars approaching top speeds of 150 miles per hour, it seems a fool's errand to think you could outpace the law.
Sorry, No Joyriding
Almost all police cars have what's called a "runlock" system. This allows a car to idle at low power while the keys are out of the ignition. If somehow, against all odds, a suspect or a passerby jumps into the car and tries to take off, the car won't let them without the keys.
As soon as anyone releases the handbrake or depresses the brake pedal, the car shuts down in this mode. But there's no accounting for driver error. If the cop leaves their keys in the car...it's possible.
New Technology May Replace Sirens
An alternative to sirens may soon be available. Some recent developments in siren technology are already in use, like the rumbler siren. Another technique that may soon become available is a short-range FM transmitter that can broadcast specifically to your car.
So if you're listening to "My Heart Will Go On" a little too loudly to hear the siren, the cop can hijack your whole world. Though honestly, if you don't notice a loud siren plus a rumbler...perhaps you shouldn't be driving. Technology can't fix inattention completely.
Police Car Auctions
Did you know you can buy used police cars at auctions for insanely low prices? We're talking three figures low, maybe even $500 or under. Now, some of these cars are from the ‘90s and have a lot of wear and tear.
And it's best if you've researched what kind of scrap values the engine and other parts have so that you can sell in case you don't want to refurbish it. These things are sold as-is, so you may not even be able to drive one off the lot.
Mobile Debt Collectors
One uncomfortable side-effect of data being tied together in the information age is that it's almost impossible to hide from minor infractions. Even "oopsies" like uncollected debt can turn up attached to your name and license plate number.
Such is the case in Texas, where one security company is offering free license plate-reading technology to the cops in exchange for access to driver information for commercial purposes. Yeah, that doesn't sound good. Police also use it to find folks with outstanding court fees. Welcome to the shady new world.
Personal Cars for Cops?
In some areas, police officers are allowed to use their police cars as their own personal vehicles. They're even subsidized to cover costs, so long as they bring the cars in regularly to get serviced. The police department provides all the rest of the equipment.
Part of the reasoning of these police departments is that if the officer is entrusted with the car as their own personal vehicle, they’ll take better care of it. But it still might make neighbors nervous seeing it in the driveway.