Hillsboro Police Chief Dan Kinning has driven many police cars since he started out over 30 years ago.
“Cars have advanced so much in comfort and technology,” he said. “I used to drive a patrol car that had a seat like a rock. I got the seat replaced in that one.”
Police equipment also has changed. On one police car, if Kinning turned on both roof lights, they would noticeably dim.
“Now we have LED lights that are much brighter and last for more than 50,000 hours,” he said.
Despite his police experience and general love for automobiles Kinning said assistant chief, Jessey Hiebert was the expert on job specific components of police cars.
“You’ve got to know the technology to get the best deal when working with tax dollars,” Hiebert said.
Hiebert researches and installs modifications specific to the vehicles used.
Hiebert said all the major manufacturers — Dodge, Ford, Chevy — provide a “police package,” which means the cars come prepped for auxiliary equipment.
“The wires in normal civilian vehicles terminate at specific point like the interior lights or the radio, but a police package has a giant loom of wires that aren’t connected to anything,” he said.
“When we get a new car, we connect everything to the center console.”
In Hiebert’s car, the console sits between the front two seats.
To attach the light bar he has to drill a hole through the roof. Then he threads the wires through and connects them.
Once the lights are functioning, each color has a specific purpose.
“Red is the only color in Kansas that is accepted as an emergency color,” he said. “It means you are supposed to stop. However, blue lights pierce fog and moisture better than red.”
Hiebert said that yellow lights means caution. However, yellow lights are also used in the “arrow stick,” which rests on the back of the light bar and can be used in traffic control.
“We can communicate by using nothing but lights,” he said.
Officers also communicate with civilians by sirens. Two main siren patterns are “the wail” and “the yelp”.
“The wail is the normal sound people are used to hearing when we are in pursuit,” Hiebert said. “It has the largest distance between high and low frequencies. The yelp has a much shorter distance between high and low frequencies. The theory is that the yelp grabs your attention quicker because it’s a faster sound.”
Sirens are located in special bumper on the front of the car.
“The push-bumper protects the sirens, but we use it primarily to assist motorists,” Hiebert said. We can push a disabled vehicle to safety without damaging our car.”
Hiebert’s police car is a 3.5-liter 2006 Chrysler that puts out 250 horsepower.
“It can get me anywhere I need to go in a hurry,” he said.
Most police cars can go 130 mph with no problem but what he finds more important are the brakes.
“They are heavy-duty like you would see on a race car,” he said. We can stop on a dime with no skidding. But if you’re going fast, it feels like a roller coaster. Your eyes pop out. You will get an upset stomach, literally.”
Chief Kinning said, “Officers need complete control of their cars to better serve the public.
Speed of response often is crucial.
“Say your pruning and you cut your leg,” he said. “Well, if I can get there 90 seconds before the ambulance and put my hand on a wound of someone who is bleeding out, and you might think 90 seconds isn’t much time, but seconds are the difference between life and death, than I could possibly save your life.”
First aid kits are a standard supply officers carry.
Officers generally carry fingerprint supplies, flares, a shotgun, a rifle, and a flak jacket that can stop a rifle bullet.
Police cars are tailored to the specific needs of each officer Kinning said.
“Our K-9 unit has a feature. If it gets too hot, the fans come on and the windows roll down automatically,” he said.
Both Kinning and Hiebert agreed that cars were a vital tool that allowed them to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.
“The only thing we come back to the station for is paperwork,” Kinning said.
Despite all the extra equipment, police cars often cost less than consumers would pay for similar equipment because of federal subsidies.