They were called “police” cars but they weren’t, really
Looking over the materials for this month’s cover story, our annual Best Dressed Police Vehicle contest, makes me reflect, reminisce (and cringe) at my memories of the sad state of affairs that police cars once were.
When I joined the then Metropolitan Toronto Police Force as a cadet back in 1979, I was assigned to the Summons Bureau, where my daily duties consisted of delivering outstanding parking tickets to often unwilling recipients.
I was shocked to discover that my ride for the first few months at least, was a bright yellow marked Ford Pinto two-door that had seen better days, sometime well before my arrival. Nagging in the back of my mind of course was also the propensity for the Pinto’s to explode into a ball of fire when rear-ended.
For a time afterwards I was assigned a brand-new metallic brown unmarked AMC Spirit. It’s not surprising that AMC went out of business, considering how poorly designed and built, and uncomfortable that Spirit was. One could easily get sea-sick if relegated to the front passenger seat because the ride was so soft.
During my final six months or so my regular ride was upgraded to a brand-new marked Ford Fairmont four-door sedan with a relatively rare six-cylinder engine (most others only had the inline-four). Without roof-lights of any kind, the car was mistaken for a taxi on more than one occasion.
After turning 21 and being sworn in as a constable I was sent off to recruit training at the Ontario Police College in Aylmer Ontario. During field training and then after graduation I finally got to move up to a “real” police car, although real would soon get tempered by the reality of what that was, or more accurately, wasn’t.
In an apparent attempt to save money, we continued to get still more Ford Fairmonts (mostly with four-cylinder engines that stalled if one attempted a quick 3-point turn). Some of these actually had A/C, but the vinyl benches persisted, presenting a challenge when 2 officers of largely different stature had to share the car for a shift. The taller officer typically drove so they didn’t have to sit with their knees rubbing against the dashboard all night long. The Fairmonts were replaced quite quickly once their complete unsuitability for police work was realised.
We then got mostly Plymouth Caravelle/Gran Fury’s equipped with an anemic slant-six mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. They had vinyl bench seats, untinted manual windows, no A/C, and no police equipment other than an antique GE police radio.
Roof-lights consisted of six large red incandescent tractor-lights mounted on a primitive roof rack that howled-up a storm at highway speeds. Our traffic colleagues were at least lucky because they had actual real sirens – beautiful long cylindrical chrome units, while we divisional guys got saddled with cheap European-style two-tone “mee-maw” horns that created more confusion with the public then clearing the way for us during emergencies.
There was also no prisoner partition and there was nowhere to put portable radios, so officers quickly improvised and pried the dash-vents out, wedging the portable radio into the resulting hole, which was a surprisingly good fit.
We eventually got basic wire-mesh partitions, A/C and tinted windows, electronic sirens and in the late 80’s a MDT. Thankfully Dodge ended production of the Caravelle/Gran Fury’s (so we couldn’t buy them anymore) and we finally got full-sized Ford LTD’s and a few Chevy Impalas. With that we got V8s, tinted power windows, commercially built partitions and roof-lights and the Panasonic ToughBook computer. We also got a proper centre console with a mobile radio, proper siren and PA controls, and even coffee cup holders.
Before retiring last year, I marvelled at how far police cars had come during my years of service. Now equipped with all the usual creature comforts, plus state of the art mobile computers, GPS, shotguns/patrol rifles, in-car cameras, stylish decal packages and all proper commercially made equipment.
Car manufacturers have also stepped-up quite nicely over those years, providing a wide range of police-specific features and equipment in their police-package offerings, instead of just bolting heavy-duty everything onto regular cars and selling them as “police” cars.
Another thing that has changed a lot over the years is the implementation of joint management and employee equipment committees that brought enlightened and progressive thinking to the fleet procurement and equipment process. User input has gone a long way towards fielding real “police cars” and professional equipment for all.
Enjoy the rides, and this issue.
They were called “police” cars but they weren’t, really
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