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How to...Purchase Patrol Cars

Take the pain out of buying cruisers.

July 01, 2003  |  by - Also by this author

The Bid Process

Dodge IntrepidTop speed: 136 mphMaximum alternator output: 160 ampsDrive train: Front-wheel driveOther vehicles available: Durango special service

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD), one of the largest departments in the nation, requires all dealers that want to bid on the agency's car business to register with the county. After the bid has been sent to everyone on the list of registered dealers, other companies can visit the LASD Website, download the bid, and make an offer, but they still have to register before the offer can be accepted. Otherwise, the Department's database doesn't recognize the bid. Because LASD is a well-established department, most dealerships know to register. While smaller departments might not be as well known, the process is much the same. They send their bids to a list of previous bidders and other local dealers.

When you're accepting bids, keep in mind that a local dealer might be more convenient. If you don't have an in-house operation to handle maintenance issues, you'll probably send cars in need of repair to the dealer you bought them from. You won't want to transport them very far if they're already in poor condition.

It takes an average of three weeks for dealerships to respond to an agency with their offers.

Once an agency receives bid offers, the person designated to review them evaluates each bid to find the lowest bidder that meets all of the department's requirements.

When a dealer omits an original request from the bid offer, most agencies pass the dealership over and consider the next lowest bidder. Sometimes a dealership will offer an improvement not requested in the original bid at no extra cost. Most agencies accept this "good exception" gladly.

Once a bid has been accepted, the agency sends the proper paperwork to the dealer that won the bid so an invoice can be generated and the cars can begin going down the production line.

The Finished Product

Ford Crown Victoria Police InterceptorTop speed: 128 mphMaximum alternator output: 135 ampsDrive train: Rear-wheel driveOther vehicles available: Natural Gas Interceptor; Explorer, Expedition, and Excursion special service

While cars will arrive at your headquarters with heavy-duty suspension, an extra-large alternator to accommodate many electronics, and any other specifications you requested, they won't be ready to drive on your next shift.

You need to add radios, computer consoles, and any other special equipment to the vehicles.

Whether your agency upfits patrol vehicles in house or sends them out to be fitted with the necessary equipment to turn base model cars into police cars, be sure to make use of lightbars, spotlights, and in-car radios from cars that have been put out of commission. Just because these components aren't brand new, that doesn't mean they won't work on a different car.

Capt. Marc Roberts, director of procurement at the West Virginia State Police, says his agency typically uses each of its lightbars for three or four years before purchasing a replacement. They sometimes use radios for even longer.

In your analysis of how much money each new car will cost, you have to also account for the cost of either buying new accessories or fitting new cars with old components. Both options cost money. "You can figure anywhere from 30 to 40 labor hours per patrol car just to add stuff to it after you take delivery, and that's not unreasonable," says Hvizdak.

Also keep in mind that whether you're going to finish a police car in house or send it out to be upfitted, you have to allow time for the work to get done. And if you're contracting an outside party to do it, you have to expect other customers to be in line ahead of you. Says Hvizdak, "You can't just make a phone call at night and say, 'I need two patrol cars built by tomorrow,' because it just isn't going to happen."

Putting Cars Out to Pasture

When your department decides to take a car out of the fleet, there are several options available.

Smaller departments might put the car out for a bid, much like the process used to purchase a car-except that in this case you're searching for the high bidder. Chief Clukey says the Dexter Police Department even puts an ad in the local newspaper offering to sell its decommissioned cars to any party that offers the best price.

The Denver Police Department often sells police cars to smaller local agencies. Hvizdak believes this can be a very beneficial relationship for both parties, especially if the smaller agency's funds are limited and its officers' physical demands on vehicles are not as high.

Both the West Virginia State Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department strip their decommissioned cars of their lightbars, strappings, radios, and police paint jobs, and sell them at auction. Part of the money from auction sales goes back to the respective agency to help start the process all over again next year.

The Purchasing Process

  • Funding/budget approved
  • Decide which cars you would like to replace
  • Decide which cars you can buy with available funds
  • Write Specs
  • Fill out paperwork and submit bids to local dealers
  • Receive offers back from dealers
  • Evaluate bids, give job to lowest bidder that meets agency's standards
  • Cars delivered to agency
  • Add accessories/components to cars
  • Evaluate all cars each year and prioritize them for replacement
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