What kind of patrol vehicle do you want to drive? Do you want something with a lot of room, or something smaller with a low profile? Do you favor a high top end for expressway traffic enforcement or is good cornering and tight handling important to you in your municipal department? Of course you want something safe and comfortable, but how's your department's vehicle budget?
In the words of one EVOC trainer, "Every officer wants the best vehicle they can get their hands on. Every department wants the most cost-effective fleet possible. Somewhere in between is probably the best place to be."
Eventually every department has to purchase vehicles. Many just go to the local dealership and ask for a beefed up vehicle off the lot. Sometimes, local politics makes this a necessity, and many government officials think they're saving money by taking this route. However, because many states have central bid purchasing, it's usually more cost effective to go with the state purchase price.
Of course, there is still a choice to be made regarding make and model, albeit a limited one. Gone are the days when most departments drove the same vehicle. Because weather and other environmental conditions vary so much and departmental missions can be so different from region to region, several manufacturers now offer both standard duty patrol units and special purpose ("big and brawny") vehicles. When a boss is trying to decide which vehicle to select, he or she needs reliable, unbiased test results and other information.
MSP Testing Methodology
The Michigan State Police have been testing duty vehicles for more than 25 years. In 1981, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) became the sponsor of the MSP tests through its technology assessment arm, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC). These tests have evolved over the years, with constant improvements to the testing protocols, and they continue to yield a fair and balanced view of vehicle capabilities as well as other performance factors.
Tests are conducted to determine acceleration and stopping distance as well as top speed and pursuit/emergency high-speed handling characteristics. Since ergonomics and comfort are important considerations, these dimensions are evaluated. Along with all of these factors, fuel economy is also measured and reported.
The Michigan State Police conduct their vehicle tests every autumn, taking a look at the next year's crop of would-be patrol vehicles. Acceleration, braking, and maximum speed are tested at the Chrysler Proving Grounds, in Chelsea, Mich. High-speed pursuit/emergency handling characteristics-otherwise referred to as vehicle dynamics-are evaluated at the Grattan Raceway, located in west-central Michigan. The Proving Grounds tests are conducted on a Saturday and the Grattan Raceway tests take place on the following Monday. Sunday is reserved as a "rain day." In their efforts to provide a fair and balanced testing protocol, MSP makes every effort to avoid wet road conditions.
Of course, rain conditions are typical for patrol operations and testing on wet roads would be a valid measure of a vehicle's handling capabilities. The problem lies in ensuring that each and every vehicle has the same testing environment. Because wet conditions can vary from minute to minute, the Michigan State Police have opted to avoid such conditions in the interest of fair testing protocols.
Each year, different manufacturers bring their vehicles to be tested. The 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.
There are two different categories of vehicles tested. One category comprises vehicles that would be suitable for "general service" patrol that may be subjected to high-speed and pursuit driving. The second is for vehicles that wouldn't normally be pressed into that kind of service and are more likely to be used as "special service" vehicles. These are the four-wheel-drive vehicles, the SUVs, and the pickup trucks. Last year, a third category was added for motorcycles.
Automobiles such as the ubiquitous 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 and a few specially designated SUVs participate in the high-speed handling (vehicle dynamics) tests.
The 2008 Tests
This year's tests were held Sept 15-18 and included vehicles submitted by General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. There were 11 vehicles in the general service category:
- Dodge Charger 3.5 liter
- Dodge Charger 5.7 liter
- Dodge Magnum 3.5 liter
- Dodge Magnum 5.7 liter
- Ford Police Interceptor 3.27 4.6 liter
- Ford Police Interceptor E85 3.27 4.6 liter
- Ford Police Interceptor 3.55 4.6 liter
- Chevrolet Impala 9C1 3.9 liter
- Chevrolet Impala 9C1 E85 3.9 liter
- Chevrolet Tahoe PPV 5.3 liter
- Chevrolet Tahoe PPV E85 5.3 liter.
There were five entrants in the Special Service category:
- Chevrolet Tahoe (4WD) 5.3 liter
- Chevrolet Suburban three-quarter-ton (4WD) 6.0 liter
- Ford Explorer (2WD) 4.6 liter
- Ford Expedition (2WD) 5.4 liter 3V
- Ford F-150 (2WD) 5.4 liter Super Crew Cab