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December 15, 2011

Do you like this?

*Advance warning: This week’s column isn’t so much for interested (and disgusted) passersby of the Police World that look here for amusement (or fodder for lawsuits…you know who you are, you ambulance-chasing half-wit). This one’s geared more towards the actual cop-audience, and veterans at that, so join in if you like hearing “old people talk” about mechanical crap. Like an accidental dose of PCP, I had to get it out of my system.

It’s kind of funny. In the Golden Age of policing (the ’30s and ’40s, to me), police forces across America began using motorized vehicles as a means of saving money.  

To you Littlefieldians this must reek of madness, right? But think on it; instead of multiple cops to cover a given area, a police car and a radio could cover a much larger area than four, five, maybe six cops and with an even faster response time. A wagon moved them in bulk from place to place and a horse was the equivalent of an off-road vehicle or motorcycle, but the radio the car provided made it a spaceship in comparison.

Never mind cutting payroll—this also gave officers the ability to patrol on foot instead of being anchored to a desk phone, a persona that exists to this day as evidenced by the disheartened foot traffic at HQ expecting Sergeant O’Malley to be sitting in a high chair with his hat cocked back and a pencil ready to write. Clients are now greeted instead by a sign over a phone from which they must (ironically) call police.

Now cities (or at least Chattanooga) are saving money by eliminating police cars. Some would feign well-rounded wisdom and wistfully say we have “come full circle”. Others, however, would label those people as being “full of shit” and correctly state that we have “gone backwards”.  That’s irrelevant now, but as the venerable Crown Victoria finally eases into the retirement veteran cops so eagerly seek themselves, I can’t look forward to its replacement without also looking back at the history of police cars.

The Crown Vic dominated the ’90s and the early part of the 21st century as well. From the new “slim” headlight profile in the 1992 redesign that messed with people’s rearview mirrors everywhere to its final (and longest running) 1998 body style, the Ford Crown Vic Interceptor turned what is clearly a family sedan into an something that was part off-road vehicle and part rocketship.  

What separated it from its “civilian” counterpart wasn’t just its reinforced suspension, special oil-cooling radiator or augmented alternator (to support pre-LED/pre-strobe lights, radios, and early in-car computers power demands), it was that special little chip in the onboard computer that told all other cars to never, EVER go faster than 109 MPH. They pulled it out like a bad tooth and set it free.  

When they talk about how you can “outrun a cop, but you can’t outrun that radio”? That was written long before the advent of Ford’s greatest creation since the ’67 Shelby Cobra GT. Shy of actually being on fire in a careening flying saucer, I believe there is no greater automotive exhilaration than cruising at 149 miles per hour in a sustained pursuit of a very, very bad guy across state lines.

Sure, lots of you have driven that fast, but probably not for 45 straight minutes in the ridiculously dangerous proximity of a column of 15 other cars doing the same thing with blue lights pulsing and sirens not blaring enough to actually be heard, such was the speed…the gentle vibration and occasional shudder from the steering wheel reminding you that one dropped cigarette in the lap or one unfortunately placed rock on the roadway would send you into a flipping, cartwheeling ball of flaming death that would be more sudden and dramatic than a silverback gorilla waking you up for work with a piece of firewood. I can still see my white knuckles in my mind’s eye, and wonder how that ever seemed like a remotely good idea. Ah, youth. And blind stupidity, of course.

(Ugh, a column about the history of police cars past, and I’m only two cars into it. How about we continue this in a couple of weeks? Hey, I’m boring me too, but at least three readers will appreciate this. And then be similarly ashamed. Welcome to “Police Work.”)

When Chattanooga Police Officer Alexander D. Teach is not patrolling our fair city on the heels of the criminal element, he is an occasional student, carpenter, boating enthusiast, and spends his spare time volunteering for the Boehm Birth Defects Center. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alex.teach.

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December 15, 2011

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