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In Pa., more cruisers going retro — to black and white

Police departments have been switching from more colorful designs to simple, classic vehicles

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

PITTSBURGH — The law is black and white. And these days so are many of the vehicles its officers drive.

Police departments throughout Western Pennsylvania have been switching from more colorful designs to simple, classic, black-and-white vehicles — a throwback to designs popular in the 1950s and '60s.

A side view of a black-and-white Chevrolet Caprice (PoliceOne Image).
A side view of a black-and-white Chevrolet Caprice (PoliceOne Image).

"Standard cars blend in. They're not as noticeable as black and white cars," said Allegheny Township Police Chief John Fontaine. "Plus, black and white is a nostalgic thing. It's a traditional police car look.

"It's also safer, the cars stick out so people know police vehicles are coming," he said about the black cars which features the word "police" in bold black letters and the township's police shield on it's white doors.

Fontaine said the township's police cars have been black and white since 2007.

"When I started in the late '80s, police cars we all deep blue," he said. "We've had all kinds of colors. It's the chief's preference," said Fontaine.

The science behind black-and-white police cars is simple, said Dr. David A. Rosenbloom, an optometrist at The Vision Center, in Pittsburgh.

"Nothing is more contrasting than black on white or white on black," Rosenbloom said. "Anything else would be more subdued."

Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold agrees that black and white cars look traditional, but he says nothing stands out more than his department's "star car."

"When you see it, you definitely know it's a Leechburg police car," he said of the black car that features a plethora of blue stars and a red bar that says "Leechburg" in yellow lettering on its doors. "When we had it designed, we went to different designers and tried to find something that would really stand out during the day and night."

Diebold said the car especially stands out at night, when its two sets of police lights are flashing.

"We get mixed reviews," he said of public and police officer reaction to the car. "Most of the comments are positive."

Diebold said he made the decision on the design of the cars in conjunction with the mayor and members of council.

According to Diebold, another detraction from black and white cars is the cost of painting them.

"You can't buy a black and white car," he said. "So you have that added expense."

While painting a black car's doors white can cost up to a few thousand dollars, vinyl wraps — made possible in recent years by technological advances in the printing and graphics industries — cost $250 to $400 plus the cost of installation.

Allegheny Township used a wrap on its newest car, according to Fontaine.

Locally, the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office, Carnegie Mellon University Police and departments in more than a half dozen communities including Lower Burrell are following the black and white trend.

"I did add some yellow reflective tape, but they've looked like that for as long as I can remember," said Allegheny County Sheriff William P. Mullen.

Reprinted with permission from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 

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