Posted on 1/30/14

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For most people, cop cars bring to mind rolling speed traps, civilian safety, and a place where your taxes go. For others, they represent the vinyl-clad, lexan-encased beginnings of a judicially enforced time-out after a night of overindulgence. In reality, there are lots of other things that you probably didn't know about cop cars; here are 11 of them.

AkronHistory.org
1. The first police car was 100% electric.
In 1899, the police of Akron, Ohio, fielded an electric powered wagon that could hit 16 mph thanks to a pair of 4 hp motors, and came complete with lights, a stretcher, and gongs. Naturally, the first thing Akron cops did with it was pick up a drunken disorderly.
AkronHistory.org
2. It was also the first cop car trashed in a riot.
Even though it weighed 2.5 tons, rioters in 1900 did their best Detroit impersonation and sent cop car number one into a canal. They also destroyed quite a few buildings, and yet women still used umbrellas, because decorum doesn't pause for riots.
3. The Little Deuce Coupe wasn't just for hot rodders.
Because it had a V8 and was both cheap and reliable, the Ford Model B was the cop car of choice in the thirties and led to many precincts sticking with Ford for years.
Wikimedia Commons
4. The Crown Vic was a success for so long because precincts are cheap and lazy.
It was basically built more like a truck than a modern car, so when an officer crashed it, it was super cheap to fix. Also, most police training is designed toward rear-wheel drive cars, which require a much different driving technique to front-wheel drive cars like the Taurus, and it took forever to update the training program. 
5. Bulletproof doors might be the coolest factory option ever.
Bulletproof Kevlar lining was available on every Crown Vic after 2006, in case cops decided they wanted to recreate every TV police drama in history and hide behind their door during a shoot-out.
Scott Davidson
6. All those different sirens serve different purposes.
The classic "wail" is used for open roads when an officer is traveling at high speeds and approaching an intersection, because it's better at penetrating the cabin of a vehicle, so you'll hear it. The "yelp," basically a sped-up wail, is used in high traffic situations and for annoying restauranteurs. If you still don't get out of the way, you'll likely get an earful of airhorn.

7. As technology advances, sirens as you know them might be on their way out.
Short range FM transmitters mean cops'll be able to broadcast straight into your radio, and if even that fails, they've got something called a rumbler, which not only fights Jackie Chan in the Bronx, but sort of functions like a giant subwoofer that you can feel from 300 feet away.
Sky Cop
8. Almost three quarters of American cop cars are capable of Orwellian surveillance.
Whenever you see an officer at a light and assume he's running plates, he's probably just looking for the nearest donut shop, since most cop cars automatically read your plates. And snap your picture. And timestamp/geolocate the image and store it indefinitely. Unless you happen to have infrared LEDs pointed at your plate (it blinds the camera, so definitely don't do that), they know where you've been going.
Grand Theft Auto
9. You can’t actually jump in a cop car and drive away.
Whenever you see someone jump in a cop car and just drive off in a movie, chances are the director didn't do their homework. A feature called runlock enables an officer to remove the keys but keep the car running so the lights, etc., can still function. If anyone touches the brake pedal or parking brake, the car shuts off, so you really can't just hop in for a joyride. Well, unless the officer forgets to take out the keys.
Jimspinnin/CrownVic.net
10. Hours matter more than miles.
Because cops spend so much time just idling while doing radar/stakeouts/Words With Friends, the mileage doesn't really let you know how much wear the car has on it. So that a mechanic can know how long the car's been running, they've got hour meters on them that measure how long the car has been on, but sitting in park or neutral.
© Dave Arnold & CopcarDotCom.com
11. The first true performance car to be produced for highway patrol was the AMC Javelin.
And it was glorious. 401 cubic inches of American muscle pushed the Alabama Highway Patrol up and down the highway from 1971 to 1979.

Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor. He's a little obsessed, but not in a sitting-outside-the-dealership-at-3a-with-binoculars sort of way. He undergoes track withdrawal symptoms on a regular basis and writes about cars as a salve, and you can follow him on Twitter @aaron_m_miller.

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