How to Equip Campus Patrol Cars

Published: February 28, 2007

There are many choices when it comes to outfitting your patrol cars with light bars, partitions, deck lights and all the other accoutrements that make cruisers patrol ready. Maybe it’s time for your department to look into the different options.

You’ll definitely want to include any officers with technical expertise and a general cross-section of patrol officers when deciding what equipment officers need in their cars to do their jobs. Requirements can change each year, so it’s important to involve anyone who might have insight into these developments before entering the bid process for buying new cars, which will need to be fully equipped.

What to include in a bid depends on how much you want thedealer to handle and how much you want to take on yourself. As adepartment you have several options.

Many Departments Prefer Working With Dealerships
Most police departments rely on dealerships to get them the cars theyneed with the equipment they want. Communicating your expectations tothe dealer is an important step.

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For example, a smaller campus police or security departmentmight require different equipment than is specified in the original bidit is using. A dealer should be willing to come up with a solution toany such issues. Even if you plan on upfitting your cars in house,you’ll need the best equipment package to fill in the gapsbetween the very base model and what your agency will beinstalling.

The dealer facilitates the upfitting process. Each agency candecide how deeply it wants the dealer involved. No matter what routeyou take, the dealer will be the one to deliver new vehicles.It’s up to each agency to decide to what degree the cars willbe equipped when they arrive from the dealership and who will do theinstallation.

Turnkey Vehicles Can Reduce Subcontractor Hassles
The most hands-off approach to equipping patrol cars requires almost noinvolvement from the agency after the bid process. When you rely on adealer to equip your agency’s patrol cars, most of the workis done for you before you ever see it. Some agencies, especiallysmaller departments, prefer this solution.

If you choose this option, you need to include every item youwant in the bid. If you don’t specify a certain manufacturerfor a particular part, the upfitter the manufacturer uses will choosefor you. This is a practice that saves time and often doesn’tmatter. But if you have a particular preference, make itknown.

Once your agency has chosen a dealer to work with via the bidprocess, your involvement pretty much ends.

A dealer then communicates with both the car manufacturer andthe shop that will equip the vehicles. Dealers often receive cars fromthe manufacturer and then deliver them to a local shop to installequipment before delivering them to the agency. But now it’sbecoming more common for manufacturers to use their own upfitters, sothe cars are already equipped when they reach the dealership. Thesesubcontractors install radios, computer stands and even kennels for K-9units.

It can take 90 to 100 days for the entire process fromreceiving the purchase order to delivering the cars to theagency.

Many agencies prefer ordering patrol vehicles from a localdealer with a basic police package and then leaving the major equipmentinstallation to a local upfit shop. The amount of time involved ingetting the cars ready is comparable to the time it takes to get afully equipped vehicle from the dealer. The only difference is whohandles the upfitting portion of the process.

Some agencies prefer this type of arrangement because themechanics who put the equipment on the cars will most likely be theones to fix them. If the shop is nearby, this will be simple and costeffective.

In-House Installation Often Eliminates Waiting
Some larger departments have the luxury of running their own garagesthat handle every aspect of maintaining agency cars, includinginstalling equipment on new vehicles.

For example, both the police and sheriff’sdepartments in Denver equip and service all of their patrol cars inhouse. “We can fully upfit a car in a week,” saysmechanic Dennis Mazgulski. “We buy the base police model asit comes from the factory and add everythingourselves.”

This allows them to oversee the quality of work and the amountof time it takes to get the job done.

The garage orders one car each year before ordering the wholefleet so it can check for any changes in the model that could causethem to need modifications to their designs. The garage makes all itsown fittings for light bars and other equipment. If there is a changethat requires new fittings, the mechanics go to work creating new onesto fit the new model year patrol car.

Of course, not everyone has a dedicated garage, and startingone would prove costly.

One trick any agency can deploy involves making use of oldequipment. Before selling or disposing of it, you can probably use itin several different vehicles first. Light bars and cages often outlastthe cars they are used in and might be able to last through fivedifferent cruisers, although some modifications might beneeded.

Equipment Upgrades Usually Must Be Done in Stages
Even if you reuse equipment, you’ll eventually need to buynew equipment now and then. It’s never cheap and completelywithout hassle. Upgrading vehicles across the board, as when installingnew laptops in every cruiser, can’t always be done at once.Although a small department might equip each car one by one, theprocess can be complicated when dealing with a large fleet.

For bigger departments, the installation can be done in one oftwo ways. The first option is to bring the cars to an upfitter or thein-house garage in rotating groups. This can be done by servicing carswhen they are off the street and available.

Alternatively, each car can be upgraded according to itsmaintenance schedule. Most large agencies follow a preventivemaintenance schedule in which each car gets a service”check-up” every two weeks or every month. This isan ideal time to make any modifications to vehicles because it requiresno additional downtime for the cars.


Melanie Basich is a contributor to Campus Safety magazine.

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