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How to buy vehicle consoles

By Tim Dees

Where vehicle interiors are concerned, “police package” cars are pretty much the same as the consumer models. Finding spots for two-way radios, siren and emergency light controls, racks for long guns, radar control panels and in-car video systems is always a challenge. This is how makers of aftermarket vehicle consoles stay in business. Here’s three points to consider when purchasing a vehicle console:

1. Compatibility with Vehicle
The first concern with selecting an appropriate console is the vehicle it’s going to ride in. Unless there has been a major design change, interior dimensions don’t vary that much from one model year to the next. Still, make sure that any console you consider is fitted for that model year.

There are no stock sizes for public safety electronics, and every make and model will have different dimensions. Your console vendor should be able to tell you if there is sufficient room and adequate mountings for the control heads and switches you intend to install.

Don’t forget to consider the depth of each unit. If the cables for each component attach in the back, there has to be enough room for the component, the cable, and some free area to allow the cable to bend. Some cables are available with right-angle connectors that make installation and maintenance easier on everyone, so inquire to see if that might work for you.

2. Mount for Mobile Computer
A mobile computer will nearly always go on a mount separate from the other controls. This mount needs to be extremely durable and stable, compatible with the computer you intend to use, designed to be clear of any airbag deployment zones, and adjustable for the preferences of the user.

To keep the user from looking down too much and losing situational awareness, the top edge of the display should be roughly even with the bottom edge of the windshield when viewed from the user’s perspective. If the user is expected to write reports in the car (which is not recommended), the keyboard should move to an ergonomically sound position that doesn’t cause back or neck strain, and still be secure when the car is in motion.

3. Lighting
Task lighting should be selectable for white or red light to preserve night vision. Extra power outlets for recharging flashlights, cameras and whatever else are a welcome touch.

Whenever possible, get a vehicle with the proposed installation and have your largest and smallest officers drive it. They will tell you what needs improvement. And don’t forget the cupholders. Forget those, and your most costly piece of gear will come back to the station immersed in raspberry slush.

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at

The Police1 Buying Guide column features how-to-buy guides for top police products and articles from our columnists as well as industry analysts, educators, and other noted specialists in their fields. Send product suggestions and feedback to