Peace officers in our nation’s departments have an assortment of vehicles to aid in enforcement. But when you take away ATVs, aircraft, bicycles, horses, motorcycles, snowmobiles and watercraft, there’s still the police car. Even that category is diverse, as you’ll see with a look at the kinds of cars police use.
Sedans. By and large, this is the most common kind. Typical marked cruisers are domestic four-doors and usually rear-wheel drive. The crude but tough Ford Crown Victoria was a dominant presence in the segment until production ended in 2011 and the automaker’s Police Interceptor badge was pinned on the Taurus. Chevrolet and Dodge beefed up competitive efforts with their own respective Caprice and Charger police-duty offerings.
A few import brands have also patrolled since the 1970s. Most notably, Colorado cops in Aspen and Vail drove Saabs for many years, and some departments in Utah are outfitted with Toyota Camrys.
SUVs. If the typical civilian rarely utilizes the benefits of an SUV, police departments do almost exclusively. SUVs keep officers mobile in foul weather, when the job takes them off pavement or extra carrying capacity is needed. For the most part, domestic brands rule the roost in this segment, and the models are often mid- to full-size. Even as patrol vehicles, they blend in with traffic and low-profile light bars can be mistaken for roof racks.
Trucks. You’ll often see police in pickups wherever the general population drives them as well. These are commonly isolated rural areas, especially those that experience significant snowfall. A few imports have been put into use, but again like most of the folks they protect and serve, the departments own American nameplates. Most intimidating in the mix is probably the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, though not in widespread use.
Vans. These have always been the utilitarian way of getting stuff from one place to another. For police, the stuff they move is usually prisoners or multiple officers. From minivans to large-scale tactical operation units, you probably won’t see police vans in speed traps or on regular patrol.
Sports Cars. For such a car- and speed-based culture, American police haven’t put sports cars to use the way departments around the world do. That’s partly because our homegrown squad cars are beefed up over civilian counterparts to keep up with scofflaws.
But since scofflaws have been known to tackle curves and round corners, Ford first equipped the Mustang for police use in 1982. Chevy followed suit a few years later with its Camaro. Neither have been available in police-spec for years, but that hasn’t stopped a few departments from equipping newer models—not to mention the occasional Dodge Challenger.
Seized Cars. When busts yield vehicles as a byproduct of the haul, police don’t always auction them, they put them to honest use. Some of the more common are run as unmarked traffic enforcement or undercover cars. Others more extroverted in nature like sports cars and the occasional supercar are saved for special occasions more as PR pieces than practical tools. Of course, there’s nothing stopping them from acting as mighty serious pursuit vehicles.
Personal Cars. If you ever drive in Hawaii, you might get a couple surprises. Speed limits are generally lower than you might expect, especially between cities. And if you ignore that surprise, you could get another: officers’ personal cars are often used as police cars. Unlike the normally-marked cruisers you’ll also spot on the islands, these remain unmarked and undistinguished except for a blue (not red or blue and red) roof light.