PoliceOne Roundtable: Expert insights on aftermarket vehicle safety equipment

In a recent Police1 survey, experts weighed in on their preferences on the aftermarket equipment that keeps you and your squad car at peak performance

Squad. Cruiser. Roller. Panda. No matter what you call it, there may not be a more awesome automobile on the road than a police car.

As awesome as they are though, they’re the devil to keep running at their peak performance — in case you hadn’t already been told, all that hard driving you do takes its toll on your beloved mobile office. 

Police fleet managers are continually looking for ways in which they can further ensure your safety behind the wheel, and aftermarket equipment — from brakes to lights to reflective materials and myriad other options — are a major consideration factored into the safety equation.

In fact, in a recent Police1 survey, more than half of all respondents reported that their agencies prefer to have an upfitter/distributor purchase and install vehicle accessories (in lieu of factory-installed) because they can select the exact manufacturer products that they prefer for their vehicles.

Many report that this practice is also more cost-effective!

For this special roundtable conversation, we spoke with three industry experts about some of the issues they see for police vehicle safety now and in the future. Check out their responses and add your own thoughts on this topic in the comments area below.

What are the biggest issues facing police agencies that aftermarket vehicle safety equipment can solve?

Kelly Kyriakos: The number one thing is safety for the officer when the vehicle is entering an intersection when in pursuit.

Number two is safety at accident scenes, while directing traffic, and conducting roadside stops on the highway or other roads. Too much lighting at scenes or during challenging environmental lighting conditions can make it harder for the motoring public to get clear indications on how to proceed, which makes the officers job harder and more dangerous.

Add to all of that that the problems of not having enough power. Vehicles batteries are being overtaxed by all the equipment and computers now in use. The safety equipment can help solve this issue or make it worse so the selection of technology, programming, etc., is critically important.

Alex Folken: The graphics applied to the vehicles help with safety when using reflective material. When headlights shine on the squad the material reflects back, so when stopped the officer can feel safe knowing the squad is highly visible.

Nathan Meckel: Aftermarket vehicle safety equipment can solve several issues that police agencies face. From an aftermarket brake perspective, police agencies are requesting brakes that stop shorter, provide better braking control, and offer cost savings.

When an officer is in a high-speed pursuit, either on a motorcycle or in a patrol vehicle, the ability to stop faster and eliminate fade with better braking control is very important. As the pursuit continues and the brakes heat up, maintaining stable braking effectiveness is a potentially-lifesaving advantage. 

What are the key things departments need to consider when buying aftermarket vehicle safety equipment?

Kelly Kyriakos: You first have to consider the question of what the mission will be for each type of vehicle in the fleet — traffic unit, patrol, accident investigation, and so on. Then you determine how to mark the different types of vehicles in the fleet, making sure they have 360 degrees around the entire perimeter of the vehicle.

Throughout the process you must continue to consider what is the total amperage being consumed by all of the different types of vehicle safety equipment they are buying, how it is managed, and figure out if they have enough battery capacity to handle these items on a day-to-day basis.

Alex Folken: When purchasing graphics for an entire fleet or just one squad, it is important to keep in mind how long the vehicle will be in service. If the squad needs to last four years than the graphics should last four years just like all the electrical equipment. 

Nathan Meckel: The key consideration for aftermarket vehicle safety equipment is the cost-to-value ratio.

It is a big decision as the departments are spending money to improve the safety of the vehicle, and therefore, the safety of their officers. Departments should seek warranted products that eliminate vehicle and officer downtime, reduce maintenance costs and improve officer safety.

What are some of the mistakes departments make during the testing and evaluation process?

Kelly Kyriakos: Probably the biggest thing is not establishing and measuring a specific test criteria. That includes different environmental conditions, length of test, visual considerations at different distances, and how the public reacts in different situations.

You have to put the right group of people together to give input on the test set up and the evaluation process itself.

Another mistake departments make is not involving the companies whose products are being tested in the process at the beginning to make sure that true apple to apple comparisons are being made once the test and evaluation period begins.

Alex Folken: Departments tend to go with lowest cost not the best product, but if you are constantly having issues with the product it the lowest cost really the best option?  Durability, quality and safety may need to have more weight in the bidding process.

Nathan Meckel: Departments are thorough and diligent to avoid mistakes during the testing and evaluation process. We have seen very sophisticated testing equipment and scientific procedures in place. Equipment such as a VBox — a GPS-based reporting device — is used to eliminate human error.

What are some of the best practices being put in place for vehicle operations?

Kelly Kyriakos: One thing we’re happy to see is when agencies test vehicles for total amperage output while vehicle is running, as well as monitoring total parasitic draw of a vehicle when it is off. These two tests can go a long way to lengthening battery life, keeping the fleet up and running and lowering overall maintenance costs.

Another thing is putting in place a regular maintenance program for the vehicle lighting. This helps extend vehicle equipment life, as well as keeping the overall effectiveness of the lighting at a safe level.

Finally, we recommend establishing a regular vehicle equipment trade out cycle — not waiting until the equipment falls apart before replacing it. This helps with overall budgeting year-to-year, as well as allowing fleets to upgrade to newer and better equipment on a slow planned basis that allows them to try different technologies and equipment without committing to changing the entire fleet because they have no choice or making a bad choice that will cause further problems downstream.

Alex Folken: There is safety in visibility, so using reflective material — even if it just for the rear of the vehicle — is important for officer safety as well as for civilians.

A reflective website or Chevron stripe can do this at a minimal cost. We do not have statistics on this, but since 2009 we’ve seen more of our customers ordering bumper stripes or some sort of reflective wording — like the agency websites for example — to put on the rear of our graphic packages.

Nathan Meckel: Procedures and policies vary from department to department, but those following best practices put the safety of their officers above all else and provide the best equipment.

In pursuit situations, policies are in place with various agencies to alleviate brake fade and reduce accidents. For example, it is the policy of some departments for the officer who initiated the pursuit to peel off and another officer to engage as the vehicle begins to experience brake fade.

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