How to buy light bars

LEOs use their light bars far more often than they use their duty weapon. Yet the importance of this particular piece of equipment often gets submerged in budgetary considerations, and receives little thought compared to the deliberations involved in selecting a firearm. Cosmetic considerations over function can result in critical consequences.

Studies and statistics have shown that one of the most dangerous things a LEO can do is a traffic stop. Aside from the inherent danger of the unknown subject(s) in the stopped vehicle, a significant risk is almost always approaching the officer from behind, in the form of other motorists. Drunk drivers and inattentive drivers have killed and crippled far too many cops in the midst of traffic stops, on accident scenes, and on construction details.

The irony is that the equipment which is supposed to keep the officer safe from approaching traffic – the light bar – can also serve to facilitate a crash, via the “moth effect.” The “moth effect” is created in accordance with the old driving maxim, “where you look is where you’ll go.” Particularly true with DUIs, the approaching motorist becomes fixated on the pretty flashing blue/red lights, and automatically steers towards them with disastrous results.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re contemplating the acquisition of light bars.

Assess your available resources, and anticipated “recycling” practices.
How long-term an investment are you going to make? Light bars tend to range from the expensive to the mega expensive. Typically, you get what you pay for in terms of features and warranty.

What has been the practice in your department when cruisers are cycled out? Some of the more expensive light bars have warranties extending up to 10 years – far longer than the service tenure of most patrol cars. Are the light bars removed and installed on the replacement vehicles, or do they collect dust in storage? Balance the anticipated usage life with the factory warranty; how far beyond the initial warranty do you anticipate using the light bar? What are other jurisdictions using, and what has been their maintenance experience? If purchasing a light bar as part of a turn-key vehicle purchase, is the purchase being financed over a period of years? Will such a purchase practice financially allow you to upgrade to a light bar with more features and better warranty? What are the details of the warranty? Is there a skilled automotive electrician available locally and qualified/authorized to work on the light bar? If buying a light bar separately from the vehicle, what demands will the light bar make on the electrical system of the vehicle? Will there be additional expenses required to accommodate the power needs of the light bar.

Determine the primary function the light bar is going to serve, given the demands of your jurisdiction.
Are you operating in a rural or urban environment, where “stopping power” or “clearing the road power” is paramount, and the danger of being rear-ended is less acute? Are you working on Interstates or high speed expressways, where the immediate control of the stop location is not as significant as the danger approaching at 70mph from behind? In such a work environment, it could well be worth the extra investment in a light bar with rear directional lights.

With proper research and analysis, acquisition of a specific light bar will serve to facilitate execution of the department’s mission, as well as preserve the safety of its officers.

Rob Hall contributed to this report.

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