Tools Of The Police Trade: Shotguns, Teddy Bears, And…Golf Clubs?

Tools of the trade

It’s been said that a police car is a cop’s office on wheels. Well, that’s certainly true, but those rolling branches of the police department also serve quite well as storage facilities for spare paperwork, extra ammunition, defibrillators, shotguns and rifles, computers, radio repeaters, shovels, rain gear, boots, extra clothing, evidence collecting kits, fingerprinting kits, hand cleaner, paper towels, extra handcuffs and other restraints, and sometimes a few teddy bears to help ease the pain of traumatized kids. The contents of each car depends upon the role and personal preferences of each officer.

The interior of a police vehicle, especially a patrol car, is jam-packed with tools of the trade that need to be within easy reach of the officer—shotgun, flashlight, paperwork, traffic summons book, etc. There’s also an array of winking and blinking lights, buttons to twist, turn, push, pull, or flip in one direction or another. There are microphones and speakers. Radios for calling out and others for listening.

A radar unit and antenna are usually mounted somewhere within the interior compartment. And, of course, there’s a heavy screen to separate the good guys from the bad. Good in front, bad in the back. If that order is ever reversed, then you’re probably in deep trouble and this very well may be the perfect time to re-think your career choice.

The controls for lights, sirens, radar, and radios (both portable and stationary) are normally mounted in a control console that’s within easy reach of the driver. The picture below is of a center console in an average patrol car. See how many of the items you can correctly identify before moving on to the next picture.

Next is the same image with each item identified.

Radar antennas are normally mounted either hanging from the top of the rear side window (outside), on the front dashboard, or in the rear window area (pictured below), or both—one on the dash and one in the rear window. Some units are capable of tracking vehicles both coming and going.

And, some are able to record target vehicle speeds while the police car is moving.

The next image is of a dash-mounted radar unit and antenna (antenna is to the left of the unit).

Shotguns and their locking dock stations are often mounted between the backs of the front seats, near the dashboard in an upright position, or, as pictured below, in an overhead, behind-the-seat locking station. Shotguns should always remain locked in place until the officer needs it. There’s normally a “hidden” button that’s depressed to release the weapon from its locking mount.


Most present day patrol cars feature a Mobile Data Terminal (MDT), better known as a laptop.

Screens are normally made of a combination of Plexiglass and aluminum. Notice the side panels of Plexiglass in the photo below. This is to prevent the suspect from reaching around to grab the driver. It also serves as a “spit guard.” There’s nothing worse than driving along toward the jail and suddenly find the side of your head and face as the recipient of something very wet and very slimy.

Some officers (me included) prefer to hang an extra set of handcuffs from the side spotlight control handle (below). You never know when you’ll need them, and if you do they’re with easy reach.

By the way, the spotlight is controlled by the handle you see below. To stand the light in an upright position, you simply pull down on the rounded handle that’s just to the right of the black leather strap attached to the handcuffs. Then, by rotating the handle (twisting to the right or left) the light moves as indicated.

Light bars mounted to the top of marked patrol cars serve more than one purpose. The main function, of course, is to alert people that the car is in emergency mode. The officer inside activates the rotating lights (or strobes) by flipping a rocker switch (up for on and down for off, just like a light switch in your home). The lights inside the bar are not colored lights. Instead, they are merely very bright spot or flood lights. It’s the colored lenses that produce the red, blue, and amber light.

The white or clear lenses you see are actually used as spot lights. The four white lights on the front of the bar below are called takedown lights, and are used to illuminate the area in front of the patrol vehicle, such as during a nighttime traffic stop. The side lights are alley lights, and, of course, are used to light up alleys as the officer passes by. However, they can be used to illuminate the areas on either side of the car for any purpose needed, even to see better in a wooded area, field, or ditch.

Finally, the trunk of a patrol car is used to store items the officer may need for special occasions, such as a fingerprint kit or evidence bags. The trunk is also where dashcam recording units are mounted, as are lock-boxes for weapons.

I know one sheriff who keeps a complete set of golf clubs and a pair of golf shoes in the trunk of his police car. After all, you never know when an emergency golf game may pop up.

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Okay, Writers’ Police Academy recruits, you’d better take a good look at this blog post, because you’re going to need to know what’s what and where it’s located when you stop the bad guys…at night. Yep, we’ve got big plans for you this year!

By the way, we are taking names for a waiting list, and we’ve already filled three spots that suddenly became available. Please contact us right away if you’d like to add your name to the list. This year is totally over the top. We’ve gone all out this time!

18 replies
  1. 1015 Adam Henry
    1015 Adam Henry says:

    The thing I always like about emergency vehicles is the (vast) amount of gear they contain and how its all stowed. Its probably my closet interior designer. About the overheads, alot of the newer models are LEDs which are crazy bright. Almost 3-dimensional on a rainy night! Especially the wig wag deck lights. Even the Michigan State Police utilize LEDs in place of a rotating light inside their trademark red dome. Other than non existant leg room, the back seats are a comfy hard plastic which helps prevents the customers from hiding their missed stashed and for easy cleaning for when nature calls.

  2. Joseph Terrell
    Joseph Terrell says:

    Yes, Lee, this past fall I rode with one of the deputies at the WPA and the inside of his vehicle was a well-equipped auxiliary police station, crammed with useful “stuff.”

  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    It’s that way for many sheriff’s offices across the country, Terry. I’ve worked many nights covering an entire county, alone, where many areas had no radio contact and my only backup was a lone trooper who was, at times, an hour away. Of course, I was his only back up too. It’s not a good feeling, but you do what you have to do.

  4. Terry Odell
    Terry Odell says:

    Up here in the boonies, no computers. Radar yes, though. Radio reception is unreliable. When they make a traffic stop, they have to wait for Dispatch to run plates, etc. And they’re alone, usually a minimum of 20 minutes from backup. And they’re driving Ford Expeditions or pickup trucks.

    Terry’s Place

  5. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    It’s not all that comfortable without the computer, Pat. But you somehow get used to it. Remember, they’re also wearing a bulky gun belt and vest too.

  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Ah, you didn’t read my entire comment, Lisa.

    “And, I kept a box of dog treats for angry, snarling canines who weren’t particularly fond of strangers kicking in the doors to the homes of their owners.”

  7. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    You’re right, Terry. To accommodate the officer’s legroom and comfort, and all the tools, etc., legroom in the back is almost nonexistent. Fortunately, those who ride in the back aren’t there for very long. And, the lack of space also cuts down on the amount of wind-up power the bad guys have to deliver kicks to the back of the front seat.

  8. Terry Shames
    Terry Shames says:

    Great post! I’m dazzled not just by the array of instruments but by the realization that in emergencies, officers have to be able to punch, grab or position whatever instrument they need within seconds.

    Here’s one thing I never heard mentioned. I was at a rock concert last fall with my sister. It was late at night (or early depending on your point of view) and we forgot where her car was parked. (No, we weren’t drunk.) We saw a police car and asked if the officer would drive us around to find our car. He obliged, but what I found out is that some squad cars have NO leg room in back. We were both scrunched up with our knees to our chins! Quite a learning experience. Yes, we found the car (a red pickup actually).

  9. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I forgot about the Pop Tarts. I, too, kept a box of the brown sugar/cinnamon Tarts in my car in case I was caught in a situation where food was nowhere to be found.

  10. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Each agency and each detective is different. Some detectives drive crappy little hand-me-down cars, while others are issued nice, new vehicles.

    In my latter years as a detective, I drove a Chevrolet Caprice that was equipped with only a radio and blue lights in the grill and in the rear window.

    I kept a variety of tools and kits in the trunk, including drug test kits, evidence collection kits, blood tests, DNA collection kit, etc. I also carried a tarp, shovel, a few tools (hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, etc.) extra batteries, a shotgun and rifle, rain gear, boots, coveralls, box of latex gloves, shoe covers, rope, bottles of water, lock picks, and anything else that would fit back there.

    Oh, and I always kept a bag of candy for the little kids in the neighborhoods. I enjoyed spending a little time with them to let them know that police officers are the good guys. Most of them had a ball switching on the lights and siren, which served two purposes – the kids had fun and the siren sometimes caused drug dealers to either drop what they were carrying or they’d take off running, thinking the police were there to arrest them.

    Besides, the kids often spilled the beans on illegal activity. A Snickers Bar is much cheaper than paying informants cash money.

    And, I kept a box of dog treats for angry, snarling canines who weren’t particularly fond of strangers kicking in the doors to the homes of their owners.

  11. Evil Robot Liz
    Evil Robot Liz says:

    This was a great read! Just the other day I parked next to a Florida State Trooper (he was working out at the gym where I work) and actually snuck a peek into his vehicle before I went inside. Amazed at the gear inside the unit, and yes — noticed the extra pair of cuffs hanging from the light handle. Also: a box of pop tarts on the middle console.

  12. Belinda
    Belinda says:

    Thanks for the tour Lee.I’ve always wanted to have a better look inside a cop car but I’d never felt comfortable doing it in real life, just in case they thought I was up to something! 😉

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