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Decommissioning Patrol Vehicles

Written by Steve Contarino

Decommissioning is a term for many slang words. Some call it removals, transfers, stripping, repurposing and preparing for auction. This can also have several different meanings, and involve very different amounts of labor and cost – from removing the basic gear to a complete repaint.

Often decommissioning is a “rushed” operation that there is not a great deal of care or concern, since the former patrol car has reached the end of its useful life. Take your time and think about some of the points that are offered in this article. Do you do this or that?

Basic decommissioning, removals or transfers can be as simple as removing a radio, siren, console, prisoner cage and a siren speaker. What is left behind might be a potential concern. A more in depth job might get as complex as removing decals, repainting part of or the complete vehicle.

Then there is the agency that takes the decommissioning very seriously and goes so far as to remove doors, hoods, engines and more, only leaving a skeleton. Why you might ask? The answer is because of the negative implications that offering a “pursuit rated vehicle” that once belonged to an agency to the general public or even a terrorist might have. No agency wants to be on the 6 o’clock news because of an incident involving one of the agencies ex-police vehicles.

Sadly, the events of the Oklahoma bombing lead to an axle that was once part of a rental truck. What if it lead to a former patrol vehicle that was not properly decommissioned? Are you or your agency comfortable with a simple removal of the “big stuff” leaving behind many police-type features? Leaving the word POLICE or SHERIFF on the doors and just taking the agency name off? Do you leave the prisoner partition, push bumper or spotlight on the vehicle? Can you and your agency really take the risk? Is it worth finding out? As one of my old fleet administrator friends said “ask the guy who is no longer employed.”

It is completely plausible that a terrorist could purchase a vehicle once owed by a Law Enforcement agency and carry out their deed. Many agencies want to avoid that publicity at all costs, so these former police vehicles are reduced to scrap, sold to be reassembled and requiring a great amount of cost that might deter the criminal intent or just one step further to sell the vehicle with a “scrap only” certificate of title. With economic times being what they are scrapping is becoming less of an option and those agencies are looking at new ways of reaching almost the same goal.

For a thorough decommissioning begin with a locksmith changing the key codes from the “fleet” key to a very different key for every patrol car sold. Fleet keying means when you sell off your former police cars you provide the public with a key for every one of your current patrol cars as well as many of your neighboring agencies cars. As they say give them one key and they can go right to the local Wal-Mart and make 100 keys and sell them to every gang member for 10 bucks a piece.

Think about it, do you really want to sell a key for your whole fleet to a terrorist or criminal? Changing all the locks can be a great deal of work too, the steering column has to come apart, and both doors and the trunk lock have to be removed. But it can be worth it. You may ask, With all this technology in the new vehicles, why can’t we re-flash the computer to just accept a new key? Good question! I just do not think we are there yet.

Next is the emergency equipment and being sure all equipment is completely removed. I mean everything! Wires and all! Even the slightest piece of equipment can be reconnected and used for unscrupulous reasons and with wires and brackets hanging from under the dash it can reduce the resale value of the car.

It is really that important that there is no chance of anything possibly being left behind or reinstalled and that includes no bullets, badges, ticket books or any other type of equipment. Don’t laugh – I have seen cars sold with all kinds of police related items under the seat and in the trunk. It is a good idea to include a complete vacuum cleaning including under the seat and the inside of the trunk and glove box.

The vehicle exterior is next. No antennas or holes where they were. Use plugs to plug the holes. Push bumpers, spotlights and certainly NO DECALS. How many times have you seen a former police vehicle on the road with only the word police removed or push bumper and spotlight still present?

These former police cars can fool the public and that can go one or two ways. It can tempt the new owner to abuse authority and impersonate an officer or it can cause real heartburn when there is an emergency and a patrol car look-alike “drives right by” and the public wants to know why! The public can be fooled by as little as the make of the car, let alone any additional police gear.

The paint is next, and that can include a complete paint or partial repaint to change the look. A thorough decommissioning with the complete re-key, removal and paint costing $2500 per car.

One particular agency actually has the buyer sign at the time of purchase a document that requires the vehicle to be painted before registration for road us or resale which is punishable by a $1000 fine and an inspection in 10 days to prove the police vehicle was repainted.

Is the cost to complete the task worth the investment? Yes, since your decommissioned patrol car is now a clean freshly painted sedan that can bring $5000. The clientele is higher than a $500 buyer, so the chance of the vehicle impersonating an officer goes down.

Although these things may be already done by most agencies, there are too many cases that these former patrol cars are displayed at dealerships across the US still wearing agency colors, decals and equipment.

In fact, I found a very upsetting website that is offering real or replica police vehicles wearing full agency colors, decals and equipment all over the US and Europe. The public is really at risk and trying to reduce that risk is the responsibility of a law enforcement agency and its fleet department.

Steve Contarino is the vice president of Adamson Industries, a national upfitter based in the Boston area. The company’s Web site is www.adamsonindustries.com. He has been a member of NAFA since 1989.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jan/Feb 2012

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