Patrol vehicles come together
Surrounded by the cacophony of industrial fans, air compressors and the tools they power, a new, bright white car stands out among the more typical rides lifted throughout the repair shop.
With each day, the mostly-plain looking Charger looks more like a patrol car until it’s sent back to the Bella Vista Police Department, in need of nothing but striping.
Bella Vista Police Capt. Tim Cook said that, of the six squad cars the city council approved for purchase this year, two are now complete and two more are currently being built. The remaining two will be put together later this year.
They go to Tactical Auto Outfitters in Bentonville, he said, for equipment installation, before moving on to striping. The department spends roughly $7,500 outfitting each car, he said, in addition to its roughly $23,000 base price.
When and where possible, he said, the department will reuse equipment, including radios and cameras, to keep costs as low as possible, though a patrol car for a new officer position will need a full set of new equipment.
Anything that will fit with the new vehicle and can be used safely, he said, is worth reusing.
“We have to be mindful of the taxpayers’ money,” Cook said. “We want to be good stewards of the people’s money.”
One new addition to this batch of patrol cars, he said, is bars on the rear windows. These, he said, provide relatively inexpensive insurance against people or arrestees kicking out back windows, which can be expensive to replace.
In addition to reusing police equipment, he said, the department saves original equipment, like back seats, that can be put back into the vehicle once it is retired and put up for sale.
Curran Hicks at Tactical Auto Outfitters installed lighting and other electronics on Bella Vista’s new patrol car, a pursuit package Charger. The build, he said, takes about one work week for a Charger, though SUVs, particularly those outfitted for K9 units, can be bigger jobs that take closer to a week and a half.
The cars can be enjoyable to work with, he said, though the most fun cars to work with are undercover cars. They need the same equipment, he said, but also need to look perfectly normal inside and out.
“They’re just kind of a fun challenge,” he said. “It’s just kind of fun to find new ways to hide things.”
The pursuit package, he said, features a column shifter to make space on the car’s floor
and it comes with wiring in place, so installing lights in the bumpers and on the roof is more straightforward.
A lot of work has to be done on the interior as well, he said. The patrol car needs wiring on the inside — often run under plastic along the pillars to prevent tampering — as well as a radio unit and a camera system and a partition, to name a few things.
“Basically, to get all the equipment put in the car,” he said, “I’ve got to take all the interior out … Sometimes it takes a little bit of sweet talk to get it back in.”
The most obnoxious part of the job, he said, is removing and replacing the headliner. It needs to come out, he said, so he can drill holes and bolt in the light bar, as well as an antenna. But once the headliner is out, he said, it’s reluctant to line up with its mounting clips again.
That antenna, he said, is important because it lets the squad car automatically upload its camera data at the police station. The camera system is patched into the car’s other systems, he said, allowing it to record data as well as video and audio.
“The camera knows when you step on the brake … when you turn the siren on, when your lights are on,” Hicks said.
In addition to setting up squad cars, he said, the shop often handles electrical issues on them. Between the sheer number of electronic systems on these cars and their near-constant use, he said, it’s not uncommon for issues to crop up.
One patrol car came into the shop, he said, with a misbehaving microphone. When the microphone was picking up audio, he said, the camera’s footage would become distorted, and at one point the car’s lights came on of their own accord.
The problem, he said, was a loose ground wire.
“There’s always weird problems,” he said.
Curran Hicks with Tactical Auto Outfitters screws a radio unit into the center console on what will become a Bella Vista squad car.
A lot of the specialty police gear in a squad car has its own fusebox under the radio unit in the center console. Curran Hicks said one major exception is the camera system, which is wired directly to the battery to ensure it records continuously.
While the new Bella Vista squad car was not yet finished, the light bar was in working order. Contemporary lightbars, Curran Hicks said, use LEDs that produce less heat and draw less power than normal lightbulbs. Additionally, flashing the head and taillights along with the light bar is a factory feature on Dodge’s vehicles with the pursuit package.