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Why do police officers leave their cars running when they’re not in them?

Brian Freskos
StarNews

We posed this question to Lucy Crockett, a spokeswoman for the Wilmington Police Department, who then asked several officers for their input. Following are some of the reasons officers might leave their cars running:

The most important reason is that the large amounts of electronic equipment installed inside modern patrol vehicles — like the laptops, dash cameras, radios, siren boxes, light chargers, etc.—suck up tons of power. Each time the vehicle is cut off, an officer has to turn off all that equipment or run the risk of draining the vehicle’s battery power in minutes. And then when they get back inside, they would have to turn all that stuff back on and wait for it to reboot before driving again. This especially comes into play when vehicles park with their sirens on, because the flashing lights eat up a lot of battery.

There is also the action-oriented reason. Officers may jump out of their vehicles in response to emergencies and leave their cars running. During traffic stops, officers are supposed to keep their vehicles running so they can quickly give chase if the person being pulled over decides to flee.

Also, repeated startups inflict a lot of wear and tear on the internal electronic components.

It also bears mentioning, Crockett said, that K-9 units keep their vehicles running to control the climate for the dogs inside. That is a safety factor, particularly during the summer, she said.

“That’s not to say there’s not any officer who leaves their vehicle running to cool off, but we hope those are isolated cases,” Crockett said. “If anybody sees a situation that appears to be wasteful in that way, they should let us know.”

Related links:

Why are Wrightsville Beach police allowed to run license plates of cars without violations?

Why are police allowed to drive the police cars home when they live in another county?

How many police officers are there in the New Hanover and Brunswick county areas? What is the ratio to residents?

User-contributed question by:
glenn

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3 Responses to “ Why do police officers leave their cars running when they’re not in them?”

  1. On January 21, 2011 at 2:07 pm AME wrote:

    “That’s not to say there’s not any officer who leaves their vehicle running to cool off, but we hope those are isolated cases,” Crockett said. “If anybody sees a situation that appears to be wasteful in that way, they should let us know.”

    I don’t think I am going to get too torn up over an officer that leaves his car running for a few minutes on an August day with a temp of 100+ degrees and 100% humidity. Sure, there’s a limit on how long I would want to see a police car sit and idle just to keep it cool, but within reason I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

    I would keep the A/C going in MY office when I went out for a few minutes so I wouldn’t have to come back to a 125 degree desk. Or the heat on to avoid coming back to a 25 degree office. I bet most others would, too. Especially if they had to wear all the stuff they do.

    But cars just running for a half an hour for this reason while they are on lunch break is different, in my opinion.

    And if people look, fire trucks, ambulances, etc. all keep their engines running almost all the time. With the battery-draining equipment they can go dead in just a few minutes-even without the lights on. And it would be a bad situation if they had a call and had to respond to an emergency, went out to get their truck, and it wouldn’t crank. And many of the drugs on an ambulance can be ruined by getting too hot or cold.

    Because of the constant power drain, ambulances and fire trucks are actually plugged into a power source when they are at the station, with all the equipment that can be turned off, turned off. That way they know the equipment *should* crank when a call comes in. Police cars don’t have that option.

    And, again, that car is that officer’s office. Remember how your car feels in the middle of August when you get inside it at 2pm? 125 degrees is a conservative number. Imagine having to do that wearing long pants, 25 pounds of gear, and a kevlar vest after chasing a bad guy.

  2. On January 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm AME wrote:

    And even with these precautions, if you listened to a scanner you would hear officers requesting assistance to have cars jumped off two or three times a week.

  3. On January 21, 2011 at 3:13 pm Anonymous wrote:

    There’s also this to consider —

    Just as Jake and Elwood Blues observed about their black-and-white ride (“It’s got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say, is it the new Bluesmobile or what?”), police cruisers are built more stoutly than civilian autos.

    More to the point of this question, police cars are built — really — to idle for long periods.

    In addition to stronger engines and better brakes, cop cars also have stouter engine systems, including engine cooling.

    The efficiencies built into most modern cars depend on a lot of engine cooling coming from air passing through the engine compartment as you drive at speed. The engine in a regular car heats up while idling. Anybody who’s had a car overheat during a traffic jam knows this mechanical quirk.

    Ever seen a cop car overheat while standing as a make-do road block, with battery-draining lights flashing, for hours following a traffic accident? Doesn’t happen, thanks to robust components under the hood civilians never see.

    So, cheers to the police cruiser, shining example of American automotive engineering.



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