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How to buy specialty vehicles

When purchasing a LE specialty vehicle, buyers need to recognize that they’re entering a long-term relationship with the manufacturer and the local dealer

Investing in a specialty vehicle is a major decision for any law enforcement agency, and thus requires careful consideration to ensure it meets the unique needs of the people it will serve and protect.

The good news is that today, police, fire and other public-safety departments can select from a broad range of vehicles to tackle their toughest challenges. Mobile command centers, armored tactical vehicles, bomb-response units, and a variety of other mission-critical vehicles are available from a wide variety of manufacturers.

But with so many choices in vehicle types and custom features, departments need to closely examine the options to ensure they’ll get the performance, reliability, and longevity they expect from their investment. That analysis should focus on three key criteria: mission requirements, operational capabilities, and service and support needs. Here, we look briefly at all three.

Mission Requirements
A clear understanding of how the vehicle will be used is critical, including potential missions, as well as the number of officers and the types and sizes of equipment the vehicle will carry.

Operational Capabilities
Today’s most advanced LE specialty vehicles offer a wide range of dimensions, configurations and options to suit the special demands of individual agencies. Chassis size, armor protection, storage and a range of other features can be customized to the buyer’s specifications.

Service and Support Needs
When purchasing a LE specialty vehicle, buyers need to recognize that they’re entering a long-term relationship with the manufacturer and the local dealer. Selecting a high-quality, technologically advanced vehicle still requires local dealer support – both before and after the vehicle is delivered.

The best manufacturers and their local dealer representatives collaborate closely with individual departments from the outset of the procurement process to define and fulfill mission-critical requirements.

But departments take the lead in any specialty vehicle purchase. So the officer in charge of vehicle specifications should identify and team with a manufacturer that has the industry knowledge and customer dedication to work with that individual one-on-one. Working with the manufacturer representative early in the vehicle-selection process helps ensure the ultimate purchase will best meet the intended mission at the lowest operating costs, be interoperable with other vehicles in the fleet, and provide a long service life.

The partnership between the specifying officer, manufacturer and local dealer also is crucial when it comes to tailoring a new vehicle to meet the department’s exact needs. Vehicle dimensions, interior seating and configuration, storage requirements, exterior options, electronics and communications equipment all must be specified. The builder may provide and install the equipment, or the customer can provide equipment, such as radios and computers, to the builder for installation. As the specification is developed, trade-offs are likely, such as armor protection versus vehicle weight, or weight versus mobility for an armored tactical vehicle.

Working with a local dealer, the officer should be clear on what other vehicles or EOC facilities will be part of the mission, and what communication links will be required. A complete documentation package is critical to future vehicle upgrades and servicing. Frontline’s F-450 EOD/K-9 vehicle is a good example of a platform that is mission specific and was designed working shoulder-to-shoulder with the end user to develop an affordable vehicle for EOD/K-9 operations.

From this clear vision of mission, a vehicle specification can be developed. Don’t hesitate to ask manufacturers and local dealers for customer references, construction and design details, or third-party test results to back up their claims. The very best vehicle manufacturers will gladly provide them.

Contributors to this article included Jack Reiff, Program Director, Tactical Protector Vehicle, Oshkosh Defense; and Steve Williamson, Director, Frontline Communications.

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