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August 14, 2007
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Pimp my patrol car: Someone has to add those bells and whistles

Michelle Machado
The Record
 
STOCKTON, Calif.  — Jerry LaBarber is probably one of the few people who can strip parts from police cars and get away with it.

LaBarber is a city of Stockton mechanic whose job is to remove reusable components from retired Police Department cars and reinstall them on those just delivered from the Ford factory.

A recent trip to his shop revealed a shotgun holder on one workbench, a light bar control and computer screen assembly on another, and back seats of molded plastic stacked outside the door.

"Everything in here, we recycle," said LaBarber, who was midstream in making the aftermarket installations to a new Crown Victoria Police Interceptor in the shop bay.

Each car is outfitted with police equipment that includes a light bar, spotlights, radio, computer, cage partition, speaker, push bumper and more.

Some patrol car components are purchased pre-made; others are custom-made.

"I do a lot of fabrication stuff," he said.

The city's sign shop produces the car decals.

The conversion process, which takes about 30 hours per car, is like taking a finished jigsaw puzzle and trading a few interchangeable pieces to alter the picture.

Some components are removed and replaced by others, and factory wiring is rerouted but never cut. The one hole drilled into the dash is for a map light.

The influx of new patrol cars is ongoing since those in use are retired after about 100,000 hard-driven miles.

In 2006, LaBarber modified about 30 Interceptors; this year, that number will rise to 35.

If the flow of patrol cars ebbs, then he fabricates racks for city pickups or the containment units mounted on the animal control division's Dodge Dakotas.

"It's whatever they want me to do," he said.

After 16 years on the job, during which LaBarber has modified hundreds of cars, the process has become predictable.

"Most of this stuff is repetitious," he said.

But he prefers repetition to overwork.

Before signing on with the city, LaBarber for 14 years owned Jim's Auto Repair, where he put in 16-hour days.

"I bought it from a guy named Jim, so I just left it (the name) there," LaBarber said of the business misnomer that for all those years had customers calling him Jim instead of Jerry.

Prior to that, he worked as a mechanic at various local auto shops after returning from service as an Army mechanic during the Vietnam War.

LaBarber, who is 64, said he is not nearly ready to retire from the work that he enjoys.

"I don't have to worry about what I'm doing the next day. It's a steady job," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Record

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