vehicles are interesting in their diversity. No two agencies seem to agree on
what they should look like or how they should be equipped. Much like the
uniforms of the agencies that field them, police cars can have unique styles
and fits, and come in many shapes and sizes.
Officers, too, come in many shapes and sizes. The puzzle is making the
two, officers and cars, fit together.
are a tremendous number of manufacturers producing the aftermarket equipment
for police vehicles. Each has their own take on the best solutions, and some
are clearly better executed than others. The hard part for fleet administrators
and purchasing agents is deciding on the best solutions for their own
particular needs. Unfortunately, these decisions are often hurried, perhaps
under-informed, and almost always budget-driven. That said, the wrong decisions
on aftermarket products have real consequences for the patrol officer using the
term “mobile office” is frequently used to describe the modern police vehicle.
Often the emphasis of the description rests with the amount and variety of
specialized equipment inside the police vehicle. But I think it more correctly
should be emphasizing that officers do their work inside the car. That is a
significant difference and goes to the very heart of the problem—too often the
equipment inside our mobile office gets in our way. It actually hinders our
ability to do work. Worse yet, it may make our mobile office less safe in a
number of situations and affect our long-term health.
takes only a simple Web search to bring up a number of significant articles and
studies discussing police vehicle ergonomics. I found some of the information
obvious, some useful, and some to be near fantasy in the likelihood anyone
would actually implement it. The latter seemed to be written primarily by
physicians. While I am not an expert in the science of ergonomics, I am
intimately familiar with the practical application with regards to police
vehicles. And I know we need to do better.
do better, it is necessary to begin with the process of upfitting the police
vehicle, including equipment and vehicle platform selection. With the demise of
Ford’s Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, we have likely lost the last of the
traditional police sedans. The Crown Vic, for all its faults, was easy to upfit
and had lots of room for additional equipment.
we select replacement vehicles, it is important to strongly consider the
specialized law enforcement equipment you want to install in the new vehicles. Despite
early claims that the majority of components would transfer from the Crown Vic
to the new cars, experience has proven something else. You will at the very
least require new brackets, different mounts, and other components to ensure
Vehicle Ergonomic Rating
of you wisely inform your purchasing decisions with the annual police vehicle
testing done by the Michigan State Police and Los Angeles County Sheriff. One
of the MSP evaluation categories is vehicle ergonomics. Check out these
ratings. The neutral and detached evaluation on the mobile office is very
in mind, these are in-factory vehicles with no upfitted gear. Not just no
partitions and no consoles, but no radios, no radar, no e-printers, no laptop
and no in-car camera. This can be a significant issue in that much of the space
you might seem to have in a vehicle can be rapidly reduced by aftermarket
items. A vehicle that gets a low rating with no upfit gear will obviously get a
much lower rating fully upfitted.
your police equipment wasn’t smartly designed for the exact vehicle it’s going
into, this encroachment can be even more problematic. My solution is to ask
your police vehicle supplier to provide an upfitted sample vehicle for you to
evaluate, or check with a neighboring agency or upfit provider to see an actual
finished police vehicle. It will be eye-opening. You may find Plans A and B are
not going to work, or that you have to spend additional funds to find a new
it often does come down to money. If I have learned anything from upfitting the
new breed of police vehicles, it is that you can only have two of the following
three: cheap, correct or quick. It is necessary to budget adequately for the
new vehicles and to consult with your upfitter regarding what works and what
doesn’t. The hard truth is that just because it worked in the past, it will not
always work going forward.
is vital to involve your officers in the selection process, including a review
of what they like and don’t like about their current setups. After all, the
best time to make a small change is when you are already making a big one.
the vehicle selection has been made and the aftermarket equipment decided upon,
the success and ergonomic viability of your finished police vehicle requires
the work of a knowledgeable and experienced upfitter. Literally anyone can
install equipment in a vehicle. I have seen everyone from garage mechanic to
stereo installer, and off-duty cop to on-duty inmate do the upfit. The end
product is usually far less than ideal. The difference a proper upfit makes in
the usability of your “mobile office” cannot be overstated.
that there are absolute limitations on just how ergonomic we can make a police
vehicle, I offer the following guidelines designed to ensure the finished
vehicle is practical, user-friendly, and minimally intrusive to the working
officer. These are the keys to providing an ergonomically useable police
you typically operate single-officer vehicles, select one of the newer
partition designs that offers full driver seat adjustment while cheating the
front passenger seat of a bit of rearward travel. These designs should be
considered carefully if you run two-officer cars. They may not offer enough
space for all passenger officers, particularly if you are using computer mounts
that intrude on the passenger side.
consider the newer single-cell partitions that offer full recline for the
driver seat and provide storage space behind the driver. It is known that front
seat backs are designed to collapse rearward in collisions to help absorb
impact forces. Solid wall, full-size partitions don’t accommodate that safety
should be as small as possible and not unnecessarily encroach on the driver’s
hip space. Today’s consoles are very
rugged and constructed of heavy sheet metal. They mount solidly—one has 11
mounting points—and they can pose a crush hazard in serious crashes. Make
certain your choice is designed specifically for your application for best
Armrests and Cupholders
armrests for the officer’s comfort. Use folding or pivoting designs where
possible. Consider the strong
possibility the officer may have to lay down to escape incoming fire or have to
egress on the passenger side in the event of an emergency. Look at your console
solution and see if that’s even possible.
holders are easy to overlook, but a needed accessory for folks who spend the majority
of their time in a car. If you don’t provide them, they will. And their solution
might be unsafe, unsightly or unworkable. Spilled drinks can damage expensive
electronics and make for a nasty “office.”
Power and USB Ports
the same lines, consider adding several DC power ports and at least one USB
port for the officer’s use. If you don’t, officers will install splitters and
junk outlets that will blow fuses and add clutter. An iPod stereo interface
jack is nice for long shifts and drives, too. Forget the CD players—they are
already a thing of the past.
biggest frustration I encounter when upfitting is finding a place to mount
microphones. The small mounting clips are not intrusive, but there is seldom an
obvious home for them in today’s vehicles. The dash arrays are jammed with
electronic displays and switches, while the consoles lack real estate. There is
always a make-do solution, but few are easy to access or use under stress. Radio
mics need to be eyes-free and PA mics need to be easy to access under the stress
of a high-risk traffic stop. Look at dedicated brackets, overhead mounting, or
magnetic mounting solutions. This is a problem with no universal
too, need to be easily accessible yet out of the way. Honestly, the old,
full-sized metal flashlights are also a thing of the past. Today’s smaller LED
lights are far brighter, have a lower life-cycle cost, and are easy to locate
in a vehicle. They also are more power efficient, able to last an entire shift
on a single charge. My advice is to consider trunk mounting the charger and carrying
the light on the belt. Provide an AC charger for the officer to use off-duty,
and they will find they seldom use the DC one.
lighting can enhance the officer’s workspace. Most police vehicles offer a
dual-color (white/red) dome light option and I recommend them. In addition, a
variety of LED interior lighting options are available from the major lighting
manufacturers and they can be a great addition for enhancing interior lighting
for paperwork, computing, prisoner observation, and digging around in the
mounts must be selected carefully and with strong consideration for how and how
often the officer will use the terminal. Are they simply running tags and
making brief data entries? Or are they completing all reports from the vehicle?
Can the mount be easily adjusted and rapidly stowed? Will it interfere with
easy access to emergency equipment controls and radio mics? Is the mounting
solution airbag friendly and secure enough to contain the computer in a
in mind that there is currently no way to allow an officer to achieve ideal
ergonomic computing posture inside their “mobile office.” However, the better
mounting solutions offer substantial improvements in this direction. Some of
the companies that make mounts have mobile computing ergonomic guidelines on
upgraded seating options, i.e., power seats. These provide much more multi-axis
adjustments for the driver seat. The improvement in adjustment over manual standard
seats is tremendous and can be the difference when accommodating your largest
and smallest officers and especially for obtaining a comfortable computing
and lighting control switches should be placed forward in the console where
they can be easily accessed and visually scanned for status. Use tactile
switching for lighting and siren, including a three-position slide switch for
primary warning lights and a rotating knob for primary siren functions. The
vehicle’s horn button, the largest button in any police car, should be
interfaced with the siren to allow for easy tone changes.
organize all controls and equipment based on a priority of use. Decide what is
used routinely and what is used under stress. Make the routine items
comfortable to use and the items used under stress rapidly accessible. Both
should be convenient.
is getting smaller and most allow for further footprint reduction by separating
the display from the signal processing unit. Place displays on the dash but
don’t get fancy. Ideal dash-mounting location in my experience is just offset
from center, slightly angled to the driver.
Proper location allows officers to glance from straight ahead to the
display quickly without having to squint or re-focus and keeping the roadway in
their peripheral vision.
sure officers can reach the controls easily when seated and wearing duty gear. Mount
antennas in accordance with manufacturers’ guidelines and in the lower or
upper-most portions of the windshield, as to not interfere with the officers’
Video system components should also be
reduced where possible, such as eliminating the monitor by using the computer
as a display. Today’s digital systems are decreasing in size, so consider
upgrading your new vehicle. In some cases, the recording unit can be mounted in
the trunk or on the partition wall to help reduce console and workspace
Gun racks should be mounted upright,
between the seats, on the partition in almost all current police vehicles. Overhead
racks may not be compatible with side curtain airbags except where the weapons
are extremely compact registered short-barrel rifles or shotguns. Weapons
should be front mounted, not trunk-relegated, as officers may not have the
spare seconds to access the trunk in a crisis. Release buttons need to be
hidden, yet accessible.
Interior-Mounted Warning Lights
Interior-mounted warning lights are very
popular and effective, but be certain they will not reduce driver vision too
much. Select application-specific products to ensure the best fit and eliminate
flashback. Be mindful of how interior light mounts can interfere with the
preferred mounting locations for your video system.
Educate your officers on keeping their
workspace uncluttered. I often see mounds of files, loose objects, so-called organizers
full of junk, and other flotsam and jetsam occupying space inside the police
vehicle. These things can interfere with proper equipment use, limit mount
articulation, damage components, and become missiles in a crash. My favorite
was a seat organizer with 12 pocket knives clipped to the outside. These
acquired blades would make a roll-over crash a real adventure. Loose gear
should be minimized.
above recommendations are not all inclusive or universal. They are based on my
experiences as an officer, an emergency vehicle operations instructor, a
supervisor, an administrator, and an upfitter. Lots of research is available to
assist you in determining where your efforts to improve the ergonomics of your
police vehicles should focus. A systems-based approach should be used and I
typically build the upfit around the mobile computer, as it takes up the most
space and affects all other upfit decisions.
NextGen police vehicles represent significant improvements to legacy vehicles
with regards to performance, handling, and technology. Even so, the majority of
the new vehicles, particularly the sedans, pose substantial challenges with
regards to mounting space for after-market equipment.
vehicle upfitting may seem simple and, really, it used to be—just install item
A in car B and you were done. But we have continued to add more and more varied
equipment as our needs and missions grew. How that equipment enhances or
detracts from the mission and its effects on your officers’ health and
productivity can be mitigated by diligent preparation for and execution of your
total vehicle upfit. The new vehicles require new thinking and new solutions.
Matthew Ayers is a Captain with the
Sevierville, Tenn. Police Department and the owner of Command & Control
Installations. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or