Guidelines for Marked Police Vehicles
Police Vehicle Design Content
Hendon Publishing

Guidelines for Marked Police Vehicles

By PFM Staff

LAW and ORDER started the Vehicle Graphics Design Contest over 20 years ago in an attempt to pass on the very best in graphics used around the country. The "Guidelines for Police Patrol Vehicle Markings" is the next logical step forward in emergency vehicle identity and professionalism.

The way police vehicles are marked needs to be more consistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. These guidelines would accomplish that, and add some objectivity to an otherwise fairly subjective method for marking and identifying a police vehicle.

Neither CALEA nor NIJ/NLECTC nor the IACP has such a standard or guidelines, nor do their representatives know of any such standards.

Police departments, at their discretion, may elect to use the proposed guidelines to update their vehicles, to change markings as police vehicles are restyled by the automakers or change markings to commemorate an event or anniversary.

In many states and jurisdictions, the police vehicle graphics is specified by either statute or state-wide police or sheriff’s association. In these cases, there is little or no flexibility. However, on a frequent basis, most of these groups still re-evaluate their graphics.

Some agencies may, indeed, wish to change their markings to adopt the guidelines, which will be published in both LAW and ORDER and her sister magazine, Police Fleet Manager. The judges for the annual LAW and ORDER Vehicle Graphics Design Contest will use these guidelines to objectively evaluate the entries for the contest. No longer a subjective "beauty" contest, these guidelines will now be a reflection of "the message that an emergency vehicle is here has been received."

"Guidelines for Police Patrol Vehicle Markings"

Should the vehicle have a symbol of the department (i.e., star, shield, shoulder patch, state seal)? Or the name of the department (i.e., POLICE, SHERIFF)? Or both the name and a symbol?

Standard: In the distant past, the symbol of authority was the most common marking. In the recent past, the name of the authority either replaced the symbol or was added to the symbol. The police patrol vehicle should have both the symbol of authority and the wording of the authority spelled out, i.e., both a shield and the word POLICE, or a star and the word SHERIFF, or a state seal and the words HIGHWAY PATROL or STATE POLICE.

Where should these markings be? (i.e., hood, front fenders, rear fenders, trunk, roof)

Standard: The police patrol vehicle should have both the symbol and the lettering on the side doors, and the lettering on the trunk lid or rear fascia. The police patrol vehicle may also have either the lettering or the symbol of authority or both on the hood, trunk lid and fenders.

How recognizable should the lettering of the department name be? (i.e., block, italics, script, multi-color, shadow-boxed, overlaid with scenic view or skyline.)

Standard: The lettering should be clear, bold and non-italicized and contrasting to its background color. The lettering should not be so colorful, or of a font style, or so graphic-latent that it cannot be easily and instantly read.

How contrasting should the name and /or symbol be in comparison to the color of the vehicle?

Standard: All markings on the vehicle should be a marked contrast with the background, i.e., a gold star on a tan door and a silver shield on a white door may not be contrasting enough.

How recognizable should the agency jurisdiction be in comparison to the agency authority (i.e., "Illinois" compared to "State Police" and "Cook County" compared to "Sheriff")

Standard: The agency authority, i.e., "Police" should be the largest and the clearest of the lettering. The jurisdiction, i.e, "Deerfield," while not necessarily as prominent, must be clear and legible.

In bi-lingual jurisdictions, within the same department, should the law enforcement name be marked in other languages?

Standard: In bi-lingual or multi-lingual jurisdictions, the police patrol vehicle may be marked in other languages, with the second language lettering as prominent as the English lettering.

Should emergency numbers (i.e., 911) and non-emergency info (i.e., website) be on the vehicle? And if so, where?

Standard: This information (i.e., 911, 311, www) may be marked on the front or rear fenders or rear fascia, however should be less prominent from the authority lettering and must not be visually distracting.

Should the police patrol vehicle be one of the factory two-tone color schemes?

Standard: The police patrol vehicle should be immediately and clearly distinguished as an emergency vehicle unique from a retail sedan, and unique from a taxi. As such, one of the two-tone paint schemes should be used instead of a solid black, or solid white, or other solid color. Optionally, the solid color police patrol vehicles may achieve the same visual affect by the use of a long, broad stripe, or striping, of a contrasting color(s).

Is one of the two-tone scheme better than another?

Standard: All of the half dozen two-tone paint schemes offered by Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford have the same net affect, and any of the two-tone schemes, in any combination of hood, roof, trunk, fenders and doors, meets the standard.

How contrasting should the two-tone be? (i.e., black and white, or state colors of blue and gray, or brown and tan, for example.)

Standard: Any combination of colors that show a visual contrast to the casual observer meets the standard. However, the colors of the authority symbol and the department lettering must also be a contrast to the vehicle color.

If, for initial cost reasons, neither a two-tone is used, nor a solid color with broad striping, should the vehicle be a unique color for rapid recognition? Or a retail color for better residual and resale?

Standard: No single color currently available immediately identifies a vehicle as a police patrol vehicle, and custom colors carry a cost adder. Since the public safety aspect of the police patrol vehicle marking supercedes the public benefit of slightly greater resale value, a solid color car without significant striping or bold police markings does not meet the standard.

Should the back, sides or rear of the police patrol car have luminous or reflective striping?

Standard: The rear bumper fascia and trunk lid should have some kind of nighttime visibility enhancement, i.e., chevron, cross-hatches, diagonal stripes. If the vehicle uses broad, side-striping, it should be reflective. And that striping should wrap around the back of the vehicle (trunk and rear fascia) in a conspicuous way. If the vehicle is two-tone, reflective striping should be added to the rear trunk lid or rear fascia in a conspicuous way.

As written, these guidelines are at the proposal, working-document stage, and open to review. Feedback on the proposed guidelines is strongly encouraged and specifically requested. Please direct your comments and opinions via either email or postal mail to:

Ed Sanow, Editorial Director
LAW and ORDER Magazine
Police Fleet Manager Magazine
130 North Waukegan Road
Deerfield, IL 60015

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