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B.Y.O.K9

Written by Ed Sanow

You have been invited to a party, and the invitation reads, “BYOB.” Long before text and IM shorthand and chat acronyms, you know what BYOB means. Well, a Vermont police department was invited to a Ride & Drive of the newest police vehicles and the officer took the invitation to mean Bring Your Own K9.

And that he did…to the shock and surprise of pretty much everyone. The K9 went in and out of the test vehicles just like the officer did. And why not? That is how the vehicle will be used. THAT is exactly how to test drive new police cars!

So often, fleet purchasing opinions are formed by chiefs, sheriffs and fleet managers dressed in casual clothing and tennis shoes. Get in the vehicle once. Move the seat up and back. Get a general feel for the overall room. Get out of the vehicle. Sometimes the driver door isn’t even closed. If a drive is taken, it is either a short cruise around the block, or a break-neck tear around a slalom cone course. Got it…purchase opinion formed.

As we enter the largest changeover in police fleet history, remember B.Y.O.K9. Evaluate the police vehicle as if you were on-duty. And remember, squad cars are getting smaller!

First, take along an 85th percentile size officer—not the biggest on the department, but certainly larger than average, i.e., there are only a couple of guys larger than this guy on the entire department.

Then, evaluate the vehicle in full duty uniform. That means wear body armor, which adds bulk (reduces elbow room and legroom) and restricts enter-exit flexibility. That means wear a full duty belt (complete with duty gun, TASER®, radio, handcuffs, expandable baton), which takes up hip room, elbow room, shoulder room and legroom, and which catches on the steering wheel and / or B-pillar. That means wear duty shoes or patrol boots, which take up both foot room and legroom. Try to get a test vehicle that has the center console mounted, which eats up hip room and knee room.

Now, get in, fasten the seat belt, adjust the steering wheel, release the seat belt, and get out 10 times. The number of police vehicles on your “approved list” is going to shrink by just doing this entry-exit…and you haven’t even started the engine. Who cares how it drives if the vehicle is too small? Then, can you see out of it? For this critical evaluation, you will need both the 85th percentile male and 15th percentile female, i.e., just about the tallest and just about the smallest. Remember, you are going to put spotlights, radar antennas, in-car cameras, and perhaps headliner or dash lights in the front of the vehicle, which blocks the windshield. And you may put emergency lights or an arrowstick on the rear package tray, which blocks the rear window.

Next, the actual drive. I raced slalom-autocross in college, followed by SCCA road racing in Mustangs for 10 years. No one enjoys pushing a car to the limit—sometimes beyond the limit—more than me. But enforcement driving and performance handling are only a part of the overall evaluation…the smallest part.

The bigger parts are how suitable the vehicle is in the overall fit and visibility areas (discussed above) and then how it will be driven on-duty. The only realistic way to evaluate the vehicle in this way is some sort of extended drive; more than minutes behind the wheel—make it hours and even days if you can swing it.

During the “drive,” you are not going to test the limits of acceleration, braking, cornering and top speed. The Michigan State Police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff already do that for us, and widely publish their results.

Instead, you are going to drive the vehicle in whatever is a normal manner and compare it to whatever is your benchmark patrol vehicle, probably the Ford CVPI. As you move through traffic, is the engine as responsive, more responsive, less responsive compared to the benchmark? Is the steering and handling as responsive, more responsive, less responsive?

Finally, it is customer service time. Have your patrol guys actually put someone of size in the rear seat. We all make jokes that the rear seat comfort for our prisoners is not our top priority. However, the reality of getting them in the back seat is no laughing matter. Check the swing arc of the rear door.

Then, is there enough room in the trunk for the gear that needs to be carried? Not necessarily what officers want to carry, but what they need to carry. Remember, the test vehicle does not have any upfit gear mounted, so factor that use of space in the equation.

Effective immediately, 80 percent of the police car market is up for grabs. When you evaluate all of the next-generation police vehicles, sedans and crossovers, B.Y.O.K9.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Sep/Oct 2011

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