Tuesday, November 2, 2010

High-Tech Safety Products for the Police... To Drive In.

Body-worn video.  Biometric solutions.  Voice recognition and smart cameras. All belong on a police officer's list of best crime prevention tools.  But let's not forget...the cars themselves.

Last week we learned that the UK rolled out BMW Police Cars for all 52 of its forces. Intrigued by the idea for this side of the pond, I asked a few police officers stateside what they would think of such an occurrence here. Officers Jason McNamara of The Roanoke County Police Department and Tim Cohoon, a Massachusetts police officer, were helpful enough to shed some light on this topic for us.

Both told me that the police cars here, especially those involved in patrolling, need to have enough cargo room to accommodate equipment, gear and potential transport of suspects. While driving an unmarked BMW may sound appealing – maybe even glamorous – after speaking to these officers and reading up more on the topic, the concerns with practicality do seem to outweigh the mere enjoyment of such a scenario.

Another major concern expressed by both McNamara and Cohoon was the cost of outfitting and maintaining police cars. Officer Cohoon tells HSG that it is not uncommon for police cruisers to log nearly 100,000 miles each year. This fact, combined with the rigors of frequent and dramatic accelerations and stoppings, mean that whatever car the police drive, it would have to be powerful enough, reliable enough, and cost-effective.

Not to say that BMW’s are not reliable and powerful, but when something does need to be maintenanced or even replaced (as happens normally within any given car’s driving life), it is no secret that BMW’s parts and certified mechanics are a bit pricier than say, Ford or Chevy. The Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, on the other hand (the standard police vehicle of choice for most departments, including Cohoon’s and McNamara’s) can be easily serviced, and is specifically built with police modifications.

But it’s not just maintenance costs that would probably deter U.S. police departments from acquiring BMW’s. The initial cost of the car, plus the modifications necessary to equip it to be a police vehicle would most likely be prohibitive – especially in today’s economic environment. Now, I do not know the actual BMW prices for the UK cars – I am sure there was a very exhaustive RFP and bid process that took place and took into account all competitors and details. But still, knowing the economic climate that pervades the U.S. at this time, how do you think people would react, seeing the entire state of Massachusetts, for example, getting fleets of super-charged, and probably super-costly, Beamers to drive around in? Public perception must always be factored in, as police and community interaction and cooperation is paramount to performing their job successfully.

Also, in many cases, departmental patrol cars are normally serviced at the actual car dealership (with only minor repairs done in the actual town or city) by certified Ford mechanics. Again, this reflects back to the issue of costs. And convenience, really. These kinds of cars cannot be out of commission for long, so time is definitely of the essence. Just looking in the local online phonebook I found five times as many Ford dealers than BMW. 

All interviewed do admit that the speed of the BMW 3 Series could definitely come in handy. Officer McNamara points out that for pursuit vehicles or even traffic units, a speedy and not-so-large car could be effective. In these situations, officers don’t typically need as much cargo space, as they don’t arrest as many or as often as patrol officers. Yes, there are bigger BMW models (530d), but once again, we are back to costs, since the higher the model number, the higher the base cost.

But it seems that some sort of a change is inevitable for departments nationwide, as HSG has been told that the Crown Victoria will be discontinued next year. And we’ve heard from not just one source that Dodge Chargers (a sometimes alternate choice) have proven unreliable. Chevy Malibu has been used, with mixed results – not exactly acceptable in this extreme line of work. Maybe there really will be a push toward BMW – this could in fact be a new trend.

While both officers admitted it would be appealing to drive a sports car like a BMW all day for work, they also agree that the cons outweigh the pros at this time. Adds McNamara, “However, if BMW wants to send me a car to test drive for research purposes, I’d be more than happy to provide my address!” You hear, that, BMW?

1 comment:

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