The Patrol Car: An Officer’s Mobile Office

Patrol Car: Mobile Office

Patrol cars serve many purposes. Obviously, they’re an officer’s means of transportation, but they’re also used as mobile offices, equipment haulers, cover during gun battles, barricades, emergency warning devices, temporary jails, cafeterias, and communication centers.

Cars driven by civilians aren’t all that much different than a police car. Although, police vehicles do have heavier suspensions, and they’re fitted with larger alternators because of the extra electricity that’s need to power all the radios, lights and sirens. Heavy-duty brakes are installed on patrol cars since quick, hard braking is often required during pursuit driving. Some police cars have coolers on the transmission lines. Other than that, they’re basically equipped the same as any other automobile.

Patrol cars are meant to be highly visible. They’re usually marked with the department’s reflective logo and they’re equipped with some sort of emergency lighting system. Some departments use rotating halogen lights while others prefer flashing strobes. Many agencies use a combination of both. Each jurisdiction has its own rules regarding light color—usually red, blue, or a combination of both. In most areas of the country, the law prohibits citizens from possessing a blue light.

Light bars are positioned on the top of a police car and stretch from one side to the other. They’re held in place by a bracket attached to the inside of the upper door frames. A hole is drilled into the car top creating a passage for light’s wiring harness. The hole is waterproofed using a rubber grommet and silicone sealant.

Each light bar is equipped with colored warning lights, and spotlights aimed to the front, rear, and sides. The side spotlights are called alley lights. Front-facing spot lights are called take-down lights because they’re often used during high-risk traffic stops—“taking down a suspect.”


Low profile light bar equipped with flashing strobe lights. It’s called a low profile light bar because it sits low and tight to the car roof. People often mistake it for a luggage rack. The deception sometimes allows the police car to approach without being detected as easily as a police car with a taller light bar.


Alley light

Most patrol cars utilize a center console that houses radio equipment, light switches, siren switches, portable radio charger, remote radar controls, and a public address system.

Equipment in the console above starting at the top:

PA system 

Department radio capable of muti-jurisdictional communication

Lights and siren control panel

Radar unit

Remote radar control

Top right – personal police scanner for monitoring fire and rescue

The rear seating area of a patrol car serves as a mini jail cell. The window and door locks and controls are disabled to prevent escape. Heavy metal and plexiglass screens divide the front and rear compartments. The rear seat in the patrol car below is made from hard plastic. This allows for easy cleaning (Drunks tend to make a big mess. Yes, patrol officers are often required to clean their own cars). Some cars are fitted with a drain plug in the rear floorboard. This makes it easy to “hose down” the rear interior in the event of an extreme mess.


Rear compartment of a patrol car.

Shotguns are mounted in the front compartment of patrol cars. Some departments prefer an upright mount near the dashboard. Others prefer a mount behind the driver’s head. Both are kept locked at all times. To unlock the shotgun, officers press a concealed button in or near the center console area.


Shotgun mount.

I’ve included this photograph as a quiz. Can anyone identify the round, white object? Hint…there’s at least one in almost all police cars.

Fun fact – The sheriff’s office in Hinds County, Mississippi has added an all electric 2012 Nissan Leaf to their fleet of police vehicles. The battery-powered car will be used for community outreach.

8 replies
  1. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Not always, S.L. Detectives and undercover officers, etc. often drive cars that were seized/forfeited, like one of my former partners who drove a Chrysler New Yorker with dark tinted windows. You’re right, though, the regular unmarked vehicles—Dodge Chargers, Crown Vics, etc.—driven by patrol officers and detectives are normally the same as the patrol cars, just without the light bars.

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Yes, the round, white thing is the oversize dome light found in patrol cars (much brighter light for ticket writing). These have built-in push-button switches that must be manually switched on and off. They do not light up when the car door is opened (the regular overhead interior lights are disconnected in most patrol cars). Hmm… next question for you. Why are the standard overhead lights made inoperable in police cars?

  3. Terry Odell
    Terry Odell says:

    Up here, the deputies drive Expeditions or pickup trucks. You should try turning one of those around to pursue a speeder on our mountain roads. 5 point turns anyone? No computers, though. No GPS. And radio transmissions aren’t that reliable in the mountains.

  4. Lynda
    Lynda says:

    You write the best hooks. I can never resist clicking your links. And it is excellent information. I can’t wait to find out what the white circle is.

  5. Wally Lind
    Wally Lind says:

    It’s either a light or a calming module, which I needed once in a while. Actually I have no Idea and I drove a squad for 20 years. I drove squads of many different colors, but I was disappointed when the Retro Kids pushed us into black and white squads, It seemed so 50s. Nowadays, of course they have the computers between the front seats which really makes it an office. That all good, if distracting during driving. The squad color though. yuk! lol

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