The LAPD has used station wagons for supervisory personnel going back to the Adam-12 days of the late-1960s.
In addition to room for the typical supervisor-specific equipment, the station wagon had room for riot gear – shields, helmets, tear gas, launchers and other tactical gear.
Driven by sergeants, the spacious wagon also served as a mobile command post - an additional radio control head was mounted in the rear. The big station wagons faded from the police scene by the early-1990s – and were promptly replaced by SUVs. The big news for 1999 was the police-package Chevy Tahoe and the LAPD immediately added the Tahoe to their fleet. The only pursuit-certified SUV at the time, these were used for both uniformed patrol and supervisor vehicles.
Each of LAPD’s 21 patrol divisions currently field at least one Tahoe, configured as an Area Command Vehicle. Depending on the need, patrol-oriented Tahoes are also utilized, to supplement the black-and-white sedans on patrol.
LAPD does their own upfitting and with the plethora of law enforcement equipment required in modern police vehicles, the LAPD takes extra steps to ensure all this equipment is standardized. That means any officer from any of the department’s patrol divisions or specialized units can jump in any marked vehicle and the equipment will operate in the same manner.
Additionally, LAPD’s upfitting takes steps to ensure the police equipment takes the minimum amount of room, as interior space is at a premium as LAPD uses two-officer patrol units. Another upfitting consideration is selecting and mounting the extra cop gear in a manner that will ensure the maximum amount of officer safety in a tactical situation or in the event of a collision.
Enter Vartan Yegiyan, Director of Police Transportation, and Sergeant Daniel Gomez, of LAPD’s Tactical Technology Section of the Information Technology Bureau. Yegiyan has 30 years of automotive maintenance experience, 25 years with LAPD Motor Transport Division. Gomez is an 18-year veteran of patrolling the streets of Los Angeles. Combining these nearly 50 years of experience, these two know what makes up a good police vehicle.
Since 2005, Yegiyan has worked steadily to improve their fleet, which currently exceeds 5,000 vehicles. While LAPD had traditionally used black-and-white patrol vehicles, the current vehicles are ordered painted all black. This saves the initial cost of optional custom paint configuration during manufacture.
Once the black vehicle is delivered, white plastic wrap is added during upfitting, which will convert the vehicle into a black-and-white. Upon decommissioning, a heat-gun is used to remove the wrap and the vehicle reverts to the same color as it rolled off the assembly line – saving the cost, legal requirements and environmental issues of repainting a former police vehicle.
Beginning at the front of the Tahoe, a Setina push-bumper is securely installed for additional front-end protection and to push the occasional stalled vehicle out of a roadway. On the roof, a low-profile Federal Signal Valor™ lightbar is fitted. This state-of-the art lightbar is only 2 inches tall, allowing better clearance under low-hanging obstructions.
While earlier LED emergency lighting left something to be desired due to wide light-dispersal patterns and reduction of brilliance when hot, the Valor™ is manufactured in a non-linear “V” formation, like the old Vector lightbar, for better side visibility. Federal’s Solaris® LED reflector technology further improves off-axis visibility.
LAPD opted to utilize Federal Signal’s optional Hotfoot™ system, which offers LED take-down and alley lights, and the ALPR sensors can be added to the foot of the bar. Another unique feature with this bar is SpectraLux™ that uses new multi-color LEDs. Thus the bar can be configured to use the standard emergency vehicle colors—red and blue to the front, and amber to the rear. While stationary, some or all of the LEDs can be configured to all-white, for command post lighting and/or take-down functions.
At this time, most LAPD vehicles will continue to use halogen spotlights, due to the higher cost of LED spotlights. However, the LAPD will fit LED spotlights on “special-purpose vehicles,” which includes the Tahoe. Since the LED spotlight operates cooler than conventional spotlights, the sensor for the heat-sensing, infrared camera is mounted on the driver’s side spotlight.
LAPD currently fields their marked black-and-white Tahoes in two basic configurations. The Tahoe used for routine patrol is a working police unit, with security barriers placed in front and to the rear of the back seat for safe prisoner transport. Rechargeable flashlight chargers and two long-gun racks (one for the shotgun, one for the AR-15 patrol rifle) are mounted in front of the security cage between the front and rear seats. The less-lethal shotgun will be secured behind the rear security cage in the storage area.
LAPD ordered their Tahoes without center consoles and during upfitting, center consoles manufactured to LAPD specifications by Havis are installed. These low-profile consoles are manufactured to the absolute minimum height possible in order to prevent injury in case of a side-impact collision, and to allow the officers to scramble over the console, if necessary, to reach the other side of the vehicle in a tactical situation.
The computer screen, with “touchscreen” capability, mounted in the center of the dash – well out of the airbag deployment zone – tops off the police communications issue, which allows Internet access and text-messaging between officers and station. It can also individually issue subpoenas to the officers.
In addition to mounting large push-buttons controlling the emergency equipment at the front of the console, there are two 12V power ports as well as two USB ports, allowing the officers to charge their personal electronics, such as cell phones. Officer feedback on these seemingly minor features has been positive and helps to keep morale high. After the Tahoe is retired from LAPD service, and the equipment is removed, the dash will be re-converted to stock configuration.
The second configuration of the Tahoe is an Area Command Vehicle which is usually driven by supervisors, thus has no prisoner partitions. They can be quickly set up as an incident command vehicle in three minutes, as neatly mounted in the rear, on roll-out supports, with communications equipment including a keyboard and two large-screen monitors.
In addition to the police communications gear, there is a router with 3G and 4G capability to access Internet / cellular access from either Sprint or Verizon. There is also an interface to connect the department’s iPads issued to command staff and an Apple TV. A wireless printer is included so hard copies of maps or operations plans can be quickly printed up. This equipment can be powered by either the vehicle’s 12V electrical system or line-voltage plugged into the 110V socket mounted on the side, thus excessive idling is eliminated.
LAPD does their own upfitting and they manufactured all of the brackets and bezels for the in-dash computer screen, which has the appearance of a neat factory installation. One problem encountered with the Tahoe is how and where to place the necessary electronic communication modules.
Obviously, this sensitive equipment must be securely placed in the rear section. If the equipment faces forward on a patrol Tahoe, there is the risk of damage by an uncooperative prisoner. If the equipment faces to the rear, it robs the cargo area of an Area Command Vehicle, and it robs the rear section of needed room.
The solution was to make a reversible panel, so it can be placed in either direction depending on the application. On a patrol Tahoe this equipment in mounted rearward of the prisoner cage and faces the rear. On an Area Command Vehicle the equipment faces forward as prisoner damage is usually not an issue.
While the communications equipment could be crammed into a much smaller space, this is not done to ease maintenance and servicing. All of the communications equipment is modular and components can be quickly and easily accessed and replaced with a new or refurbished unit if problems develop. John Bellah is a retired corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police Department. He is a member of SAE International, Society of Automotive Historians, and the Motor Press Guild. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.