Half and Half
Many agencies prefer ordering patrol vehicles from a local dealer with a basic police package and then leaving the major equipment installation to a local upfit shop the department contracts with.
The amount of time involved in getting the cars ready to drive is comparable to the time it takes to get a fully equipped vehicle from the dealer. The only difference is who handles the upfitting portion of the process.
Some agencies prefer this type of arrangement because the mechanics who put the equipment on the cars will most likely be the ones to fix them. If the shop is nearby, this will be simple and cost effective.
Some larger departments have the luxury of running their own garages that handle every aspect of maintaining agency cars, including installing equipment on new vehicles.
Both the police and sheriff's departments in Denver equip and service all of their patrol cars in house. The city's dedicated garage services all cars in the Denver department of safety. And the 17 mechanics who work there take pride in their work.
"We can fully upfit a car in a week," says mechanic Dennis Mazgulski. "We buy the base police police model as it comes from the factory and add everything ourselves."
Mazgulski and his coworkers say that the best way to get the job done is to do it themselves because they can oversee the quality of the work and the amount of time it takes to get the job done.
"If we outsource repairs or upfitting, we're not the first ones in line," Mazgulski says. "We might have to wait and have our cars sit there, which is not efficient."
The Denver garage orders one car each year before ordering the whole fleet so it can check for any changes in the model that could cause them to need modifications to their designs. The garage makes all its own fittings for light bars and other equipment. If there is a change that requires new fittings, the mechanics go to work creating new ones to fit the new model year patrol car. They fully equip the car as a "guinea pig" and ask the fleet supervisors for approval.
Once they get approval, the mechanics create manuals that detail each aspect of the installation process so making repairs later will be simplified. All fleet cars for that year will be equipped in exactly the same way to avoid confusion.
Of course, not everyone has an entire garage dedicated just to one city's public safety agencies. And starting one would prove costly, at least in the beginning stages.
"What we do might not be what's best for all police departments," admits Mazgulski. "We do what's proven best for us. We try to make the cars as safe and as reliable as possible and cost effective."
One trick that any agency can use involves making use of old equipment.
"A lot of departments use cars until there's not much good left in them," says Mazgulski. "We have an idea now of when we can sell cars-and equipment-and actually recoup some of the money. We put it back into our general fund and buy new equipment instead of using everything up until we have to just throw it in the dumpster."
But before selling your equipment, you can probably use it in several different vehicles first. Lightbars and cages often outlast the cars they are used in and might be able to last through five different cruisers, although some modifications might need to be made to make them fit different model years.
Even if you reuse equipment, you'll eventually need to buy new equipment now and then. It's never cheap and it's never completely without hassle. Upgrading vehicles across the board, as when installing new laptops in every cruiser, can't always be done at once. Although a small department might equip each car one by one, the process can be complicated when dealing with a large fleet.
For a large fleet, the installation can be done in one of two ways. The first option is to bring the cars to an upfitter or the in-house garage in rotating groups. This can be done by servicing cars when they are off the street and available.
Alternatively, each car can be upgraded according to its maintenance schedule. Most large agencies follow a preventive maintenance schedule in which each car gets a service "check-up" every two weeks or every month. This is an ideal time to make any modifications to vehicles because it requires no additional downtime for the cars.