A major issue with upfitting today’s police vehicles is the lack of available interior space to properly and safely install all of the advanced cop gear that is standard in today’s police vehicles. Another challenge is to combine and simplify the different law enforcement gear so the officer isn’t confused during a stressful situation, such as a vehicular pursuit, and begin hitting the wrong switches.
Interior room, or the lack of, is even more of an issue with departments that routinely deploy two-officer patrol units. Enter Vartan Yegiyan, Director of Police Transportation for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and Sergeant Daniel Gomez, who is assigned to the Tactical Technology Section of the Information Technology Bureau. An 18-year veteran of patrolling the streets of Los Angeles, Sgt. Gomez has a lot of practical insight as to how a police vehicle should be equipped.
Together they designed a police vehicle with an increased interior room, and simplified and/or eliminated much of the clutter of the necessary added-on equipment. Their combined insight makes the interior safer for the officers, and greatly simplifies the operation of the police equipment.
Part of their plan is to standardize LAPD vehicles so any officer from any of the 21-patrol divisions can jump into any marked vehicle in the fleet and all of the crucial emergency equipment controls will be identically placed and operate in a similar manner.
Even in these days of tightened budgets, Yegiyan intends to equip each new marked cruiser with some of the more exotic cop gear, such as Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR), forward-looking infrared (FLIR), and an in-car camera system. Fleet managers should take a second look at some of this gear, as the costs of this equipment have come down.
Using a new Chevrolet Caprice as a test vehicle, LAPD neatly upfitted an in-car computer. The ruggedized laptop is capable of accessing data on individuals and vehicles, writing reports, and other communications tasks, including issuing subpoenas. A touchscreen display is mounted within the dashboard, and well out of the airbag deployment zone.
The touchscreen also has the capability to interface with HVAC, radio communications, and emergency lighting and siren controls. This simplifies the operation of these critical controls during stressful situations. For the time being, LAPD has passed on voice recognition as they have determined that outside noises can interfere with voice recognition.
This test Caprice is fitted with police-specific, lightweight Futuris front seats, which are ergonomically designed for the working police officer. However if the Caprice goes into service, LAPD will opt for the police-specific seats, which have also been ergonomically designed to accommodate the working police officer.
This particular Caprice was an early production model — the 9C3 Detective package versions were the first to arrive. That means it has the retail center console. As the Caprice is selected as a marked black and white unit, Yegiyan indicated they will order the 9C1 Patrol package. This has an open center console with the offset transmission shifter. The intent is to use a Havis center console, manufactured to LAPD specifications.
Part of LAPD’s requirements is the console to be no higher than the retail console for officer safety reasons. In the event of a side crash, a lower console may reduce the potential for injury. In a tactical situation, the officer may have to scramble across the center console to enter / exit via the opposite door.
To the rear of the console, LAPD mounts flashlight chargers and also mounts their long-guns vertically between the seats—quickly accessible by either officer. One rack is for the shotgun—either a Remington 870 or one of the newer Benellis. The other rack is designed to hold an AR-15 patrol rifle. A third long-gun is one of the older Ithaca shotguns, designated to use bean-bag rounds. That long-gun will be stored in the trunk.
The power module, computer and interface units are all mounted on a roll-out tray mounted in the upper portion of the trunk. Yegiyan stated his people could have fitted the electronics into a more compact area of the trunk. However, that would make repair and servicing more difficult and time-consuming. As it is, everything is modular and if a problem develops, the defective component can be replaced with a new or refurbished unit and the vehicle placed back in-service in short order.
Also mounted in the trunk is Chevrolet’s optional second battery. All of the police electronics are connected to the auxiliary battery, which is in turn connected to an isolator. The auxiliary battery allows the equipment to be used without the engine running, saving fuel by reducing engine idling. Yet the isolator will charge both batteries while the engine is running. This also allows the primary battery to start the engine if the battery in the trunk is drained.
For many reasons, the LAPD does not mount the spare tire in the trunk. The first is officer safety. A repair or tow unit can quickly respond to the downed vehicle to change the tire if need be. Second, many of today’s officers may not know how to correctly change and torque a tire. The third reason is to allow for additional trunk space. Additional warning lights are mounted in the trunk since when the trunk lid is raised, it will block the lightbar. If a tactical situation were to evolve, these auxiliary LED warning lights can be turned off to avoid silhouetting the officer.
Wraps Are Cost-Effective
In the past, the LAPD literally ran the wheels off their cruisers until they were finally sold off at auction, or junked. Yegiyan believes it is more cost-effective to keep vehicles for shorter time and mileage periods. By keeping the vehicles a shorter length of time, repair costs will be lower, and resale value will increase; offsetting the cost of replacement vehicles. Having newer vehicles in the fleet takes advantage of the latest safety features and improves officer morale.
California’s requirements for police vehicles used for traffic enforcement are either to use a completely white vehicle or a vehicle that is black (or other contrasting color) and white. The LAPD has run black-and-white vehicles for over 60 years – it is an additional expense to have them painted to their color scheme. Resale value on black-and-white vehicles will take a hit as repainting to a solid color to comply with California’s laws on resold police vehicles is costly.
LAPD will order their future cars painted entirely black, and like many other agencies, place white plastic wrap material on the roof and doors, which is applied during upfitting. Identifying numbers, such as the unit numbers on the roof, are reflectorized to make things easier to spot from the helicopter. When the car is decommissioned, a heat-gun is applied to the white wrap and the car can be legally resold to the civilian market as what it was originally – one solid color.
Rear Seat Plastic Coating
The interiors of police vehicles become easily trashed, either by the officers getting in and out of the vehicle numerous times per shift or through prisoner abuse and vandalism of the back seat area. Another serious safety concern is the prisoner who is able to dislodge the inner door panels and manipulate the door latch in order to escape or to attack the officers.
The LAPD came up with an innovative solution – a one-piece scuff and bio-hazard resistant plastic coating over the rear seat. Similar panels cover the entire inner door panels with plastic molded to the contour of the door panels, which are secured by four bolts, which cannot be accessed from the inside with the doors closed. This also simplifies cleaning of the interior of blood-borne pathogens—blood, urine, saliva, vomit or other bodily fluids. When it is time to re-sell the car, the panels are removed and voila, the rear seat upholstery will look like new!
Currently, the majority of the LAPD marked fleet is the Ford CVPI. Since production of the CVPI ended last fall, the LAPD is still evaluating the vehicle(s) to replace the CVPI. So, in addition to the test Caprice, the LAPD is similarly upfitting Dodge Charger as their next test vehicle.
John Bellah is the technical editor of Police Fleet Manager and a retired corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.