One of the most frequent complaints I hear from residents is why the patrol cars used by Township police are always left running, even when the officer isn’t inside. After all, would you leave your car running when you were out taking care of business? Of course not. So why do we? Good question.
There are actually two parts to the answer. One is that police cars are different than conventional family cars. The other is that police officers are never off duty during their shift. Let me explain.
A modern police cruiser looks like a passenger car, but it’s more like an office on wheels. They’re equipped with a bunch of electronic gear: radios, relays, laptop computers, rechargeable flashlights, and a whole lot more – all of which are required for police vehicles because they’re critical to the officer’s safety as well as the safety of the general public.
Police calls are almost always time-sensitive, and critical information about emergency calls is relayed to officers through those computers whenever Butler County 9-1-1 Dispatch tells them to respond. If they turn off the cruiser’s engine – which is the power supply for their radios, computers and so on – the equipment will drain the car’s battery, either disabling its communications, keeping the car from starting, or both.
If your own work involves using a computer, do you turn it off every time you step away from your desk? Of course not. No one has the time to repeatedly shut down and reboot their computer, and if you’re a police officer, time is really of the essence. Their focus needs to remain on arriving quickly, safely, and with the right information anywhere they’re needed. So their mobile offices – a.k.a. their patrol cars – need to be up and running as long as they’re on duty. Which brings me to the second part of the answer.
Police officers are not permitted to “clock off” for lunch. If they were, they could simply turn off the vehicle, shut down their electronic equipment, and return to the vehicle after lunch, taking four or five minutes to turn all the equipment back on and see if any 9-1-1 emergencies took place while their cruiser was shut down. They can’t simply tell the dispatcher “I’m on break.”
From the moment they arrive at work to the moment they return home, they are on-duty and they are expected to respond at a moment’s notice to calls for assistance. If it’s time for lunch – which can vary widely since their shifts don’t normally correspond to traditional office hours – we expect them to eat in the community they serve, instead of returning to the station or going outside the jurisdiction to eat.
That is the foundation of our always-on practice, and every police department faces those same challenges. At the same time, however, we are well aware of the costs associated with that policy. So we are actively following developments in technology that could help to limit the time a vehicle’s engine must run, from increasing battery capacity to using more energy-efficiency equipment. In the meantime, the tradeoff for requiring vehicle shut-downs in order to save gas would be to increase the risk to both officer safety and the general public, which is an unacceptably high price to pay.
I would welcome your thoughts about this matter. Feel free to write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.