Good question: Why do police officers leave their cruiser engines running?

We’ve been talking a lot about police cruisers on the blog this week, and several commenters asked why it is that police officers often leave the engine running when sitting idle in their cruisers, especially when the cost of gas is so high.

I asked Southborough Police Chief Jane Moran that question, and here’s what she had to say:

It’s common procedure for all emergency response personnel to keep their vehicles running, including the fire trucks and ambulances. It’s based on both security, public safety concerns, the type of call, the weather, and specific needs and necessities of the moment. It’s not like we’re going to the grocery store, or to work where you can lock and park your car for the day. These vehicles are often going 24-7 and for many different reasons. If not on a call, we still have to be prepared to respond in a heartbeat to the next assignment and often (especially in inclement weather) there is no time to warm up the cruiser.

The cruisers are not only the officer’s work space, it has to be ready to be shared with all kinds of folks. Prisoners, victims, citizens involved in motor vehicle accidents that are in need of transportation, or just a place to sit while waiting for the ambulance. Each and every situation is different and as a rule the officers are instructed to keep public safety in mind, always secure the vehicle when exiting, and upon return they must be able to immediately respond to the next assigned call, without delay. Dead batteries, fogged up windows and other delays are not acceptable when someone’s life may be on the line.

As a rule, if the officer knows he/she will be out of the cruiser for a while doing administrative work, like writing a report, or at the court, they know and don’t hesitate to turn off the engine and secure the vehicle. If the cruiser is left idling for an extended amount of time, without apparent good reason, they are asked to explain why and are held accountable if there is no valid reason. Quite often, when asked, the officers explain extenuating circumstances that were not obvious at first and that’s fine.

Please remember that these officers are trained professionals who have your safety and well being in mind and want to do the best job possible.

Chief Moran also said officers have to be careful about shutting off all the electronics in their cruiser – radios, cameras, and more – when they turn the engine off so as not to drain the battery. Some of the equipment takes a while to reboot when turned back on, which could delay the officer’s response to a call.

Chief Moran said she is happy to talk with residents who observe cruisers idling for no apparent reason. She asks that you send email (policedept@southboroughma.com) or call the station (508-485-2121) with a specific location, date, and time so she can follow up with the officer.

“We take these complaints seriously and investigate each and every one.,” she said.

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Scott
10 years ago

I know you can’t outfit just any old car to be a police car. The need higher safety crash testing and other considerations. But, my last trip to New York I observed hybrid police cars all over the place. The NYPD web site talks about Ford Fusions, but they have others as well. http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/pr/pr_2010_ford_hybrid.shtml

The auto start-stop technology and the much larger batteries seem like a really good fit for a police car.

Safety of the folks in blue is TOP PRIORITY, but if you could have that and can save some gas/avoid some pollution, it might be worth consideration.

Jim
10 years ago
Reply to  Scott

Scott,

I too was recently in New York and saw those hybrid cars. The ones I saw were the Toyota Prius model. But its important to note they were assigned to the highway unit of the PD.

Perhaps the Chief’s car would be a great car to be a hybrid or even a Volt/electric. I’ll bet the vast majority of the miles on that car are notT used for high speed driving. It might be a good car to test for the town to see if it works,

Or the town could buy a Hybrid to use exclusively as a detail car. That car would NOT need to be a police package cruiser.

We need some out of the box creative thinking from the Police department on these issues.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago

I hate to say it but under the current system the police department is behaving very rationally. There is no incentive for the police department to try and reduce our carbon footprint, consider more fuel efficient cars or try and use the fleet more efficiently than we do now.

We use some 25,000 gallons of gas in our police vehicles each year. However, there is no line item for gasoline in the Police budget. Crusiers just fill up as needed from the town pump. That budget is under the control of the DPW.

We should empower the Chief to make real management decisions. Spend more on gasoline and you have less to spend on overtime or bullets. I believe we would start to see real innovation and a change in behavior if that were the case. But for now they are behaving in a very economically rational way. When presented with a “free” resource there is no reason to conserve. Anyone who doubts this should read “The Tragedy of the Commons” by Barry Commoner

Jim
10 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Excellent point by Al Hamilton! It just makes sense for all costs to be allocated to each department’ budget.

C. Nicholas Ellis
10 years ago

Any modern passenger vehicle cannot remain “ignition on, engine off” without draining the battery below the threshold required to start the vehicle for much more than half an hour, as a general rule of thumb – and that’s with a fresh battery. A battery that is several years old may have a slightly reduced life in such a situation – 15 to 20 minutes, perhaps. You can easily test this yourself in your own driveway – just make sure to have ready a booster pack, or jumper cables & a spare vehicle. That’s your average, everyday passenger vehicle – without so much as turning the radio on.

The amount of electronics present in vehicles today are astounding, and due to the nature of the electrical system vehicle batteries are not designed for long periods of “ignition on, engine off.” Alternators exist in cars not just to keep our batteries charged, so that we can make frequent short, stop & go trips, but also to power all the various electronics – most of which we’re blissfully unaware even exist. In fact, vehicle electronics have expanded so much over the years that certain Mercedes-Benz models (to take one example) have an auxiliary battery (about the equivalent of a motorcycle battery) equipped solely for providing power to control modules while the vehicle is not running. One can only imagine the power draw of your average police cruiser.

Some specs, in case anyone was curious:
A 2007 Crown Victoria has a 135A alternator, while a police cruiser variant has a 195A alternator – a 60A difference.

Jim
10 years ago

I am a Southborough resident and a Police Officer in a neighboring town. I would like to point out that, while yes the Crown Vic is a large car with a V8 engine, have you ever looked inside a cruiser? Not a lot of room. Between the radio, camera, computer, radar and rifle, all you have is the driver seat and the passenger seat. The passenger seat is mostly used to hold our duty bag and gear needed for our shift. The prisoner transport cage is directly behind the front seats along the A frame of the vehicle preventing the use of any space behind you. And if you have ever had the pleasure of sitting in the back seat you know very well that there is not much room back there either. The trunk is full of the radio and computer equipment; spare tire and emergency gear leaving little or no room in the trunk. So while you may think that a Prius would make a good police car I beg to differ. If you can outfit a Prius or any other small car with all the equipment that is needed for the day to day operation AND keep the officer safe in a hi-speed crash I would love to see it.

This is the last year Ford is issuing the Crown Vic police package. The 2012 Ford Police car is the new “Police Interceptor” that is built on the Ford Taurus platform and space is already a big issue. Companies are already having to make a single transport cage that will fit behind the passenger seat because officers over 6 feet tall would not be able to fit in the car if the traditional full back seat cage was used.

It’s a vehicle size issue, Police Officers are often large males and the cars need to carry a lot of equipment 24 hours a day. You do not want to be the person who needs our help and when we get there we can’t save you or a family member because our Prius wasn’t big enough to fit the proper emergency supplies in.

Yes the cars use gas, but we are here to help you in any way we can and to get to you as quickly as possible. Our goal is to keep you safe and make it home to our families and we need an all around vehicle that can handle the task.

If you start on the police why not jump on the soldiers protecting our country, do they really need all the ships, helicopters, planes and armored personnel carriers running all over the place or should we just park every thing in the middle of the country and send it out when we get a call for help?

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  Jim

Jim

I am not trying to bash police but I think the topic of how our public resources are managed is important to discuss. Each year we spend $75,000 to $100,000 on gas for our police crusiers. I think it is fair to discuss if there are alternative ways we could meet the requirements and spend less. I would much prefer to spend some of that money on overtime or more officers.

I think it is also fair to discuss if we are engaged in a smart, cost effective maintenance strategy although it is clear I do not think we are.

As for your comment on the military, that is also fair game. It is fair to ask if we should be the worlds policeman a role that requires a lot of that equipment or whether we should have a military that is more focused as most other countries do. (We spend about 6% of GDP on defense, most other countries spend 2%). Also, the military has a number of initiatives to develop more efficient vehicles, hybird drives and alternative fuel systems because it recognizes that dependence on massive amounts of petroleum products extended over a vulnerable supply line is a weakness.

I for one think that we should be seriously investigating diesel engines for our police vehicles. I think a diesel, which idles very efficiently, and has a long life, would be ideal for this application even if it might cost more to acquire.

Finally I think it is important to recognize that our police cruisers emit half a million pounds of greenhouse gases every year.

Wallace
10 years ago
Reply to  Jim

If the NYPD is actually using the Prius and the smaller calls for actual street patrol (and I doubt that they are), keep this in mind:
They also have prisoner transport wagons that transport prisoners for the officers. There isn’t much need for the extra room. Is Southborough interested in buying a big prisoner transport vehicle? Are they interested in hiring and extra two officers per shift to man that prisoner transport wagon? Then maybe the Crown Vic isn’t such a bad trade off!

I'm just sayin'....
10 years ago

First, this is NOT a bashing of our police officers in any way, shape or form…we love you guys!!! This is about policy and the shortsightedness of those who designed and installed these systems that are meant to keep you….and us…..safe. Just to be clear, are we to understand that we always have at least one police cruiser with its engine running, 24/7/365? That there is always a cruiser out on the road somewhere, ready to respond to an emergency…even from the opposite side of town? (And how long does it take to get from one end of town to the other, if that is the case?) We never have all cruisers in the police department parking lot with their engines turned off…ever? Does this then mean that we always have an ambulance and fire truck running, as well? I would think the ambulance, in particular, has much more life-saving equipment that needs to be available more quickly than a cruiser. Do the computers in cruisers not have a battery pack? They are hard-wired into the electronics of the cruiser? That does not seem like a great idea. What are they used for besides running licenses and registrations? Not a life-threatening emergency, I would think.

I understand the need for expediency when responding to an emergency…absolutely! However, there has to be a better way to do this! Not good policy on so many levels…

Jim (not the cop)
10 years ago

Excellent points! It seems like the only answer we get to any question about the police department’s budget or its policies is “its a matter of safety” which really means “don’t dare question what we do!

Its great to see open and frank discussion on these issues.

Mike Fuce
10 years ago

I am a budget hawk. And watch my money carefully. I dont owe debt. I am conservative. I would support the Chief having the discretion mentioned by a previous author. I would never under any circumstances ask our police staff, including the chief, to ride in a Prius or anything like it (that very notion makes me sick that someone would even recommend that). These men and women are already “at risk” by nature of getting up each day and going to work. So get off the Prius thing (I am embarrassed for you that drive them much less if you made me). Perhaps there is a better way to manage gas and maybe that is at the Chiefs discretion who I personally trust her wisdom whole heatedly. If the do gooders, and libs want ot do something worth while, please work to elect a president who does not appoint homeland security chief who is now letting illegal immagrants stay by fiat and endangers officers further everyday, everywhere around this country. Please work to elect a president who will work to eleviate environmental craziness (balance) so that we can once again build (responsible) factories to employ the 60% of minority youth out of work and offer them a decent wage of ($13-16 dollars and hour) to live on and work their way out of their situation legally. Please work to elect a president who will hunt for gas and oil that all the other countries are hunting for around us and exploiting our idiotic environmental laws gone amuk (you green nuts look at our green companies out of business in MA). But please, leave the officers alone that you all are very quick to call when the cat gets stuck in the tree or you hear a creak on your back porch (exercise your second amendment right and purchase a legal firearm – you will sleep better at night). They are finally “at strength” for the first time in years and don’t need to be nit picked on this present presidents over priced gas policies which force us to get rid of our safe SUV’s and cruisers and buy dumbed down unsafe “hybrids” (wait until winter arrives and try to drive the clown car). PS Dont bother relying to me lefties becasue I am tired of your excuses and irrisponsible thoughts. Thank you Police officers Southboro and everywhere!

Bill
10 years ago
Reply to  Mike Fuce

Mike, I found myself agreeing with you for a change until you started bashing our president. Is this really the forum for that? And I would hate find out what would happen to the creaking noises on the back porch if everyone excercised their rights’ and were armed.

Scott
10 years ago
Reply to  Mike Fuce

The Toyota Prius is electronically speed restricted so it would not be a good choice, but there are lots of hybrid options out there now. Hybrid technology has been out for over a decade now and is proving to be very very safe. They have huge alternators (usually big enough to propel the vehicle) and batteries compared to a conventional gas only car, but really it’s not that different. Yes they operate on a higher voltage, but they are designed for quick disconnect in the event of a crash. The cables run in standardized locations and are bright orange so you can’t mistake them. Generally a hybrid will be carrying a lot less flammable gas to leak out in the event of a crash, so it’s kind of a wash.

They make quite a few SUV’s that are hybrids but I would not consider any of them appropriate for pursuit. (hey, nothing out runs a radio right?) I’m not sure why you consider SUV’s safe, but the original reason they became so popular was because they were exempt form auto safety tests and therefore much cheaper. The federal government finally mandated stability control which makes them much less likely to roll over, but most of them are not still going to handle anywhere near as well as a well built car.

ProCop
10 years ago

Just a quick observation. Ever wear a bullit proof vest? It is 47 layers of interwoven kevlar in a hermedically sealed pouch (beacuse moisture breakes down the weave). It gets really hot wearing it and especially under a wool dark uniform. Cruisers are runnning unattended, to keep the air conditioning running so the officer can cool offf after desciding if you are going to get a fine or a warning. (most southboro residents want the warning)
I would venture to bet more fines and verbal altercations are given out when the offficer is uncomfortable.

Mike Fuce
10 years ago

Al, I agree with you on so many topics and that is a good thing to find common ground. I agree that we should review policies and tweak them where we can. Southboro does a fantastic job of this process. I have seen this very clearly ove the past year on the capitol committee. One issue I take offense to is the carbon emissions. Plant more trees and carbon gets eaten alive. Trees take carbon in and emit oxygen. God of the univers and nature is brilliant isnt He.

Now for a Reality Check. . . .
10 years ago
Reply to  Mike Fuce

“Each person in the U.S. generates approximately 2.3 tons of CO2 each year. A healthy tree stores about 13 pounds of carbon annually — or 2.6 tons per acre each year. An acre of trees absorbs enough CO2 over one year to equal the amount produced by driving a car 26,000 miles. An estimate of carbon emitted per vehicle mile is between 0.88 lb. CO2/mi. – 1.06 lb. CO2/mi. (Nowak, 1993). Thus, a car driven 26,000 miles will emit between 22,880 lbs CO2 and 27,647 lbs. CO2. Thus, one acre of tree cover in Brooklyn can compensate for automobile fuel use equivalent to driving a car between 7,200 and 8,700 miles.
Source(s):
http://www.coloradotrees.org/benefits.ht…

Thus, your simplistic “tree idea” doesn’t even scratch the surface of solving the problem. [redacted]

Frank Crowell
10 years ago

The National Center for Public Research Policy


“Facts: Carbon dioxide is not the major greenhouse gas (water vapor is).2
Carbon dioxide accounts for less than ten percent of the greenhouse effect, as carbon dioxide’s ability to absorb heat is quite limited.3
Only about 0.03 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide (nitrogen, oxygen, and argon constitute about 78 percent, 20 percent, and 0.93 percent of the atmosphere, respectively).4


The sun, not a gas, is primarily to “blame” for global warming — and plays a very key role in global temperature variations as well.
Fact: Most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not come from the burning of fossil fuels. Only about 14 percent of it does.5

”

http://www.nationalcenter.org/TSR032204.html


Now for a Reality Check. . . .
10 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

“Increased CO2 makes more water vapor, a greenhouse gas, which amplifies warming”

When skeptics use the argument “water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas,” they are trying to imply that an increase in CO2 isn’t a major problem. If CO2 isn’t as powerful as water vapor, which there’s already a lot of, adding a little more CO2 couldn’t be that bad, right? What this argument misses is the fact that water vapor creates what scientists call a ‘positive feedback loop’ in the atmosphere — making any temperature changes larger than they would be otherwise.

How does this work? The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere exists in direct relation to the temperature. If you increase the temperature, more water evaporates and becomes vapor, and vice versa. So when something else causes a temperature increase (such as extra CO2 from fossil fuels), more water evaporates. Then, since water vapor is a greenhouse gas, this additional water vapor causes the temperature to go up even further—a positive feedback loop.

The other factor to consider is that water is evaporated from the land and sea and falls as rain or snow all the time. Thus the amount held in the atmosphere as water vapor varies greatly in just hours and days as a result of the prevailing weather in any location. So even though water vapor is the greatest greenhouse gas, it is relatively short-lived. On the other hand, CO2 is removed from the air by natural geological-scale processes and these take a long time to work. Consequently CO2 stays in our atmosphere for years and even centuries. A small additional amount has a much more long-term effect.

So skeptics are right in saying that water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas. What they don’t mention is that the water vapor feedback loop actually makes temperature changes caused by CO2 even bigger.

It is the warming of the air caused by the burning of fossil fuels that has resulted in an increase of (the greenhouse gas) water vapor in the environment. This sets in motion a cycle of increased temperature followed by increased amounts of water vapor followed by increased temperatur e, and so on, and so on. Consequently, the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for both the increase of CO2 and H2O in the upper atmosphere and, thus, is responsible for global warming.

Just because water vapor sounds innocuous doesn’t mean it is. We put tons of it in the atmosphere with irresponsible use of dirty, nonrenewable energy sources.

Frank Crowell
10 years ago

Thanks for your analysis, but the bottom line is that man made global warming is a fraud based on bad science. Do I think a car should be left running for long periods of time, no. Do I think we should do all we can to protect our environment, yes, but not at the expense of whole industries (coal comes to mind where coal fired furnaces used to generate electricity are fitted with scubbers to remove pollution).

When it comes to global warming or climate change, we need more understanding of how the sun effects our weather.

For Prius drivers, "do gooders", "libs", "green nuts" and "irresponsible lefties"
10 years ago

Don’t worry Mike, most of us won’t waste our time.

(P.S. susan, I thought we were supposed to stay “neighborly” with our comments?)

Mike Fuce
10 years ago

I did re-read my message before I sent it and just now because I want to make sure my points have clarity and are not mean. I thought it was to the point and every point was relative to the conversation. You dont agree so it is obvious that like most liberals (contrary to their original mission years ago) will try to shut me and others up. Fortunately, and I feel good about this at this time, there will be sweeping change in the next election. Let’s then see if the new whatever you want to call them (Tea party, conservatives, righties, religious right) will have the backbone our founding fathers had (oh my yes and stop legislative sessions to pray and fast) and make the changes to our over bloated US system. I dont know if that is possible at this point. I am optimistic but not hopefull. I find every time we put our faith or HOPE in men or women, they fail becasue of our natural frailty. Have a good day and if I see you around town I will also wish you a good day as well neighbor.

Scott
10 years ago
Reply to  Mike Fuce

I would say calling someones personal vehicle a “Clown Car” could be considered mean. A lot of people tie their personal identities to their vehicle. The funny part is I suspect you are one of them.

A Toyota Prius does have two very nice features… a remote AC option (push a button on the remote and it runs the AC for 5 minutes before you even start the car. You open the door to a nice cool interior. Also, it has traction control which does very well in the snow. Four wheel drive will get you going, but it’s not going to help you stop any faster. Good snow tires and front wheel drive will get you through most winter driving and you should be off the road long before the point where it wont help you.

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