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Va. Police Install Rear Window Bars; Strengthens Windows Against Suspects

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - After 23 years on the force, Police Officer Dave Kent knows one thing about suspects who kick and punch police car windows: It''s not always the ones you expect.

Suspects often are intoxicated when they go for the glass, but not always. They''re often men, but he has seen small women assault the cars, too.

"I''ve had people who say, ''Yes, sir. No, sir,'' until they get in and realize they''re going to jail," he said.

That''s when things can get ugly. Suspects who attack the tempered-glass windows rarely break them, but they often bend the windows so badly that they damage the window frames beyond repair.

Fed up with the hassle and expense of replacing damaged windows, with the potential injury to suspects and officers, the Police Department has discovered a cheap and easy solution.

The department is installing bars in its cars.

They are called "rear window bar restraints" - nine vertical metal rods across each rear-door window.

The issue came to a head this summer when the department spent $2,400 to replace two damaged windows.

City garage workers replaced 30 windows from August 2003 to August 2004, costing the Police Department more than $42,000.

The kits are manufactured by Indianapolis-based Pro-Gard, which also makes the partitions between front and rear seats, separating officers from prisoners. The bars cost about $130 per car, compared with the current rate of about $600 to replace each window.

Police Chief A.M. "Jake" Jacocks Jr. was concerned that the bars not look too cage-like, said Jim Yost, a public works coordinator. Part ly concealed behind the cars'' tinted glass, they passed muster.

The bars will give officers more latitude at crime scenes. With the windows down, they turn the patrol car into a makeshift holding cell, where the officer can separate suspects and question them without the flight risk.

The bars also prevent the officer from having to call for backup and possibly a prisoner van, which is now the case when someone breaks a window.

Workers have installed bars in three marked patrol cars so far, Yost said, and hope to retrofit 80 vehicles purchased over the past two years.

The 30 marked cars that the department will receive in 2005 will come with the bars already installed. The city has about 300 marked cars in circulation at any one time.

Beyond the cost savings, Yost said, simply having the bars there has a distinct benefit.

"It''s probably a more psychological thing. Clear glass looks like an easier target than the bars," he said.

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