Every officer wants the best vehicle he can get his hands on. Every department wants the most cost-effective fleet possible. Somewhere in between is probably the best place to be.
What are your criteria for a patrol unit? Do you need a fast vehicle because you work for a state highway patrol, or are you more desirous of quick handling because you work an urban area? If you're of a certain size, then occupant comfort might be high on your list. Chiefs, sheriffs and municipal administrators want good fuel economy. Everyone wants safe vehicles.
How is your department supposed to figure out which vehicles meet your specific needs? After all, once upon a time, law enforcement agencies just purchased vehicles from dealers, although they were usually equipped with beefed-up components, such as a trailer-towing package and large engine. Many agencies that went this route have learned through bitter experience the increased cost of maintaining vehicles like these, and the shorter lifespan of such vehicles just makes the savings not worth the headaches.
What was needed was a reliable way to measure and compare police vehicles, so that governmental entities could make sound, responsible and fiscally justifiable decisions regarding vehicle purchases. After all, a department's vehicle fleet is its second largest expenditure, after personnel costs.
Filling a need
More than 25 years ago, the Michigan State Police (MSP) began testing vehicles in order to determine their suitability for use as police vehicles. In 1981, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) became the sponsor of the MSP vehicle tests, through its technology assessment arm, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC). Over the years, the tests have evolved into a set of standardized procedures that can be used to measure and compare various vehicles submitted by manufacturers. Tests are conducted to determine acceleration and stopping distance, as well as top speed and pursuit/emergency high-speed handling characteristics. Test personnel also evaluate vehicles for comfort and ergonomic design, and there is a comparison of fuel efficiency criteria.
Every fall, MSP conducts its bank of evaluations for the upcoming model year. Acceleration, braking and top speed are tested at the DaimlerChrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan. High-speed pursuit/emergency handling characteristics are evaluated at the Grattan Raceway, located just west of Michigan's capital city, Lansing.
The Proving Grounds tests are conducted on a Saturday and the Grattan Raceway tests on the following Monday. Sunday is reserved as a "rain day," as wet road and track conditions, while typical for patrol officers, would negatively impact on the testing procedures. Not only are wet roads less safe for the test drivers, but the differing levels of moisture likely to be on the road during the day could skew the test results, since the conditions wouldn't be the same for each vehicle.
Each year, different manufacturers bring their vehicles to be tested. Vehicles are production models, equipped as they would be if they were ordered and purchased from the factory by your city or county. Vehicles are tested in a "slick-top" configuration, and without "A" pillar spotlights, in order to keep the tests standardized for all vehicles. Additionally, the vehicles are run with production model tires that are available as original factory equipment.
Vehicles are divided into two categories — those rated for general service patrol, including high-speed and/or pursuit driving — and those that are not. The latter are referred to as special service vehicles, a classification that typically includes four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles, as well as pick-up trucks. Automobiles, such as the Ford Crown Victoria, make up the general service category, accompanied by some specially designed sport utility vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe. All vehicles are subjected to the acceleration, braking and top speed testing. Only the general purpose patrol vehicles participate in the high-speed handling tests.