Off the beaten path: Specialty vehicles for LEOs
By Kevin L. Jones
PoliceOne Product Editor
When it comes to law enforcement vehicles, many police officers will tell you that nothing beats the good ol’ Crown Vic. But there’s a lot of terrain that you can’t reach in a four-door sedan. Here are a few examples of specialty police vehicles in use across the United States.
All Terrain Vehicles
Made available to the public in 1982, officers use ATVs to patrol forests, beaches, parades, and other places where crowds gather and mobility needs to be maximized. The ATV has become the vehicle of choice for those patrolling off the beaten path.
Suzuki manufactured the first true ATV, the QuadRunner LT125, and now several other companies manufacture them, including Arctic Cat, Honda, and Kawasaki. Prices range from $2,000-$6,000—relatively affordable considering the range of missions they can fulfill.
These agile and versitile vehicles have become common in areas where officers trudge through snow on a seasonal basis—states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, and New York.
Though perfect for search and rescue operations, officers on snowmobile patrols around the country really end up using them to police the activities of other snowmobile drivers. Just like any other vehicle, citizens tend to drive these through other people’s property, drive without proper registration, and frequently operate these vehicles while intoxicated. Because snowmobiles are so fast – recent models can reach more than 100 mph—there tend to be a high number of deaths. For example, as of press time, in Wisconsin alone there have been 23 snowmobile-related fatalities reported since December 2008.
Individual snowmobiles can feature two-stroke and four-stroke engines, with four-stroke engines being better for the environment. Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo, and Yamaha are the more popular brands, and prices range from $1,600 to $8,500 new.
Also known as “jet skis” or PWCs, marine units use these the same way they use their boats: for search and rescue, enforcing security and safety, and performing critical infrastructure checks. But unlike boats, officers use PWCs in hard-to-maneuver areas, such as under piers.
“We find that most people look at them more as toys, but they’re actually great tools,” said Sgt. Robert Brandt of the Alameda County’s Sheriff’s Department’s Marine Unit. “I don’t think they understand or have a full appreciation for the capabilities (PWCs) provide.”
PWCs generally come in two basic models: a one-person stand-up model and a two-person sit-down model. Honda manufactures the four-stroke AquaTrax, which dozens of sheriff’s departments around the nation use (including ACSO) and goes for about $10,000. Kawasaki and Sea Doo manufacture models that are equal in power and can be as much as $4,000 cheaper.
The Guardian (UK) reported in 2008 that a Missouri Police Chief, Rickey Jones, once used a golf cart to sneak up on a drug dealer during a deal. “There’s no engine, no loud motor, so he didn’t hear us coming,” said Jones to the Guardian.
Jones had to radio for backup in order to chase down the dealer, who took off in a car, this anecdote still exemplifies what golf carts and other electric vehicles provide for patrolling officers – silence. Other benefits include cheap fuel costs (nothing if it’s completely electric) and, because they have no doors or windows, golf carts have become an ideal way for officers patrolling neighborhoods to easily interact with the public.
Golf carts might not be proliferating across the nation at lightning speed, electric vehicles in general are increasingly popular for law enforcement. Check out Lindsey Bertomen’s article on the T3 Motion and Segway X2, two specialty vehicles that are being used by departments all over the country. The mere fact that they’re environment-friendly could be one reason you see them being bought up departments. Though, with costs ranging between $7,000 (Segway) to $13,000 (T3), they might not be buying many at a time.