What began three years ago as seemingly a simple fix to a universal problem experienced by all police officers has become much more of a trek and quest. Officers wear duty belts laden with tools of the trade. The police car seat has typically been designed for a person, not a person and equipment. The issue seemed clear and the solution simple: Make an allowance in the back cushion of the driver and front passenger seats to allow for officers’ duty belts. As in most things in life, it wasn’t that simple.
At VDG International
(VDGI), three visionaries from the automotive industry with a depth of experience in law enforcement and the vehicle integration segment accepted the challenge of developing a better seating option for the officer. Their vision was this: Because departments provide bulky protective gear like ballistic vests and utility belts, officers should be provided with a special seat that can accommodate this police gear.
While officer responses were relatively consistent across the various platforms, the highest rate of dissatisfaction was with the Ford CVPI. According to Frank Emmerich, director of program sales at VDGI, this makes sense due to the 80 percent market share of the CVPI (i.e., more police officers are in this vehicle).
By necessity, most officers consider their cruiser as their “office.” Most officers spend between eight to 12 hours in their vehicle per shift, depending on the department. They do the bulk of their administration while seated in the limited space of their vehicle.
The police cruiser has evolved from serving simply as a mode of transportation to the point that it has become, in effect, a police station. The cockpit has been modernized, and officers are being asked to multitask. However, the seating that supports the officer has remained largely unchanged. The OEMs, to their credit, have addressed some of the police-specific seating issues with their 2011 and 2012 police vehicles, but that does not help the thousands of officers who are spending their shifts in uncomfortable seats right now.
Every officer who was interviewed noted that the cumbersome duty belt is uncomfortable while sitting in a patrol car; this was their key area of concern. Officers were also concerned with deflection of the holster as it is being pushed upward into the body armor by the seat base, and the difficulty of coupling the seatbelt based on the current Ford design which traps the belt within the seat base foam.
Ultimately, the major issue identified was in regard to seat foam and cover degradation, where after relatively little time, the seat is worn to the point that it offers little to no support for the officer.
VDGI examined the current OEM offerings for seating and, in doing so, spoke with industry experts to determine the issues and look for solutions. According to Doug Heath of Global Accessories and Consulting, the Ford CVPI seats are just too similar to the retail Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis. The seats lack adequate body support. He was also concerned about the specifics of police use.
To develop an alternative to the current seating options and to offer a solution to vehicles already in service, VDGI designed a development criterion that focuses on officer health and safety. This requires an understanding of the issues inherent in the extreme use and providing a product that maintains the OEM safety compliance, including the seat’s H (hip) Point rating.
VDGI sought out OEM-approved suppliers who were deemed experts in their field. “The frame and seat construction is not the issue; it is in the foam design, density and quality of covering,” VDGI Vice President Terry Elliott said. Working with OEM supplier Woodbridge Foam, which currently provides the foam for most OEM police cruisers, and utilizing its Science of Comfort system, they began the process of recontouring the foam and determining the appropriate foam density.
“This process certainly consumed more time and money than anticipated, but we are thrilled with the result,” stated Lyman Maynard, president of VDGI. “Sculpting out along the back to make an allowance for the duty belt wasn’t as simple as it might have seemed initially. Scoop out too much and you diminish support and shorten the foam life. Too little and the relief isn’t there.”
Additional foam sculpting included reduced seat bolster levels on the exit side of the seat to ease the multitude of entries and exits officers experience on a daily basis. Foam was reduced or eliminated around the seatbelt coupler to improve ease of operation.
Determining foam density required a fine balance. Officers spending so many hours in a seat experience extreme fatigue if not supported properly. Much insight came from working with ergonomic seating expert and occupational therapist Sheila Buck (www.sheilabuck.ca) of Therapy NOW in Milton, Ontario. “It is not just a seat cushion solution. It is pressure management, air flow, heat therapy that creates cognitive awareness; back support in the glutes and low to mid back are paramount,” Buck said.
Inappropriate or lack of supportive seating can create pain through poor posture, limited joint movement, and peak pressure points with limited circulation as a result of limited ability to shift weight or alter positions throughout the day. Appropriate seating must be addressed to prevent physical deterioration in hip joints and pelvic/spine alignment.
Unfortunately, physical deterioration is not the only outcome of poor seating and resultant pain. Cognitive functioning is also reduced, with noted increases in memory loss, fatigue and lack of concentration on the task at hand.
Based on a better understanding of the impacts on the body when seated for extended periods, VDGI, with the help of seating specialists, developed both a Heated and “Kooled” option integrated into the seat design.
After numerous iterations and a satisfactory conclusion with the foam design and density, it was time to determine the seat covering. After an exhaustive search, VDGI selected a covering from OEM supplier Sage Interiors called Yes Essentials.
“In the end, this fabric was chosen because of its superior stain resistance, extreme durability, odor mitigation with air-flow enhancement, and anti-static qualities,” said Vice President of Sales Andy Maynard. “We have met all the challenges of airbag integration and rip stitching sewing techniques to maintain the compliance of the seat and the safety of the officers, and all this accomplished with every component sourced in North America.”
According to Buck, the design of the VDGI Officer’s Office Chair™ addresses five of the key factors utilized in product design when developing seating products. First, support medium. This includes maximizing surface contact area, material stiffness/immersion, and segmentation to break up surface tension. Further exploration into immersion and reaction forces against the pelvic bones will enhance pressure management and reduce shearing which can result in lower ratings of pain and fatigue.
Second, shape. The pressure redistribution is accomplished by maximizing surface contact through appropriate product shaping related to ergonomic body alignment and positioning features (pre-ischial shelf, trochanteric shelf, anterior lateral contour, sacral support, lateral thoracic support, thoracic extension). Third, comfort. This is an individual, subjective quantity that is based on the softness or firmness of the surfaces, both internally in the foam density and with regard to surface coverings.
Fourth, stability, vibration reduction and shear reduction. This is the ability of the surface to adjust and move with the officer during car movements (acceleration/deceleration, cornering, rough surfaces). Finally, the cover material. This affects airflow for moisture reduction, reduction in resistant surface texture, friction properties and durability.
Jim Bremler of Front Line Training and Tactical Products tested the seat by suiting up in the type of gear an officer is required to wear. “I have chronic back issues after 30 years of active duty. I attribute most of that to the countless hours I spent in bad positioning in overworked, deteriorated seats. I have spent time testing the seat and speaking with fellow officers, and we believe this is superior to any seat available in a police cruiser today.”
To ensure OEM safety compliance and reduce unnecessary costs, the metal frame and structure of the existing manufactured seat are used. Simply remove the old seat cover and foam and install the Officer’s Office Chair in as little as 20 minutes.
“We have invested three years and a couple of hundred thousand dollars in this product. Final tooling is being completed, and intensive in-field testing will commence January of 2011,” said Ross McEachern, vice president of finance for VDGI. “We have established a selling price of $700 to $800 per seat dependent upon options. This pricing for a superior product fairs well against replacement costs of the current OEM covers and foam in the $500 to $600 range or where local trim shops are charging $1,200 with no real science to the design.”
In January 2011, the new seat will be available as a driver’s seat in the 2003-2010 Ford CVPI. In the coming months, VDGI will follow up with solutions for the other police vehicles in the market. There is a solution for those who need to replace their worn out seats—the Officer’s Office Chair. Marsha Maynard is the director of marketing for VDG International and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.