Patrol Cars


Patrol cars serve many purposes. Obviously, they’re an officer’s means of transportation, but they’re also used as mobile offices, equipment haulers, cover during gun battles, barricades, emergency warning devices, temporary jails, cafeterias, and communication centers.

Police cars aren’t all that much different than the cars driven by civilians. They do have heavier suspensions, and they’re fitted with larger alternators because of the extra electricity that’s need to power all the radios, lights and sirens. Heavy-duty brakes are installed on patrol cars since quick, hard braking is often required during pursuit driving. Some police cars have coolers on the transmission lines. Other than that, they’re basically equipped the same as any other automobile.

Patrol cars are meant to be highly visible. They’re usually marked with the department’s reflective logo and, they’re equipped with some sort of emergency lighting system. Some departments use rotating halogen lights while others prefer flashing strobes. Many agencies use a combination of both. Each jurisdiction has its own rules regarding light color – usually red, blue or a combination of both. 

Light bars are positioned on the top of a police car and stretch from one side to the other. They’re held in place by a bracket attached to the inside of the upper door frames. A hole is drilled into the car top creating a passage for light’s wiring harness. The hole is waterproofed using a rubber gromett and silicone sealant.

Each light bar is equipped with colored warning lights and spotlights aimed to the front, rear and sides. The side spotlights are called alley lights. Front-facing spot lights are called take-down lights because they’re often used during high-risk traffic stops – taking down a suspect.


Low profile light bar equipped with flashing strobe lights. It’s called a low profile light bar because it sits low and tight to the car roof. People often mistake it for a luggage rack. The deception sometimes allows the police car to approach without being detected as easily as a car with a taller light bar.


Alley light

Most patrol cars utilize a center console that houses radio equipment, laptop computer, light switches, siren switches, portable radio charger, remote radar controls, and a public address system.


Equipment in the console above starting at the top:

PA system 

Department radio capable of muti-jurisdictional communication

Lights and siren control panel

Radar unit

Remote radar control

Top right – personal police scanner for monitoring fire and rescue

The rear seating area of a patrol car serves as a mini-jail cell. The window and door locks and controls are disabled to prevent escape. Heavy metal and plexiglass screens divide the front and rear compartments. The rear seat is made from hard plastic. This allows for easy cleaning (Drunks tend to make a big mess. Yes, patrol officers are often required to clean their own cars).


Rear compartment of a patrol car.

Shotguns are mounted in the front compartment of patrol cars. Some departments prefer an upright mount near the dashboard. Others prefer a mount behind the driver’s head. Both are kept locked at all times. To unlock the shotgun, officers press a concealed button in or near the center console area.


Shotgun mount.

I’ve included this photograph as a quiz. Can anyone identify the round, white object? Hint…there’s at least one in almost all police cars.


15 thoughts on “Patrol Cars

  • Joyce Tremel

    The cars we have also have laptops mounted on the console–they take up half of the passenger seat. It’s very difficult to ride in that seat. Some of our cars also have cameras, which take up even more space. Add to that all the gear the officers take with them, and I’m surprised there’s even room for prisoners.

  • SuGreene


    I may be completely wrong, but it looks like a dome light, one of those that you press and it comes on. (Appears to be between the front visors.) Not really sure – haven’t been in a patrol car in twenty years, since I did my internship in college. Back then they didn’t use the laptops and cameras, and all the equipment they have now. (God, that makes me feel old!) Maybe I should look into a ride-along program and update my perception of this!

    Thanks for the great blog!

  • Lee Lofland

    Joyce – This car had a laptop in it, too, but we removed it to see the radio equipment a little better.

    Su – Don’t feel bad. When I first started we didn’t have sirens. Instead, we just rolled down the window and yelled for people to get out of the way…

    Seriously, we did have chain-driven rotating lights that turned according to the speed of the car. The faster you went, the faster the lights turned. Sometimes, the chains seized up and we had to stick our hand out the window (at 100 mph) and hit the side of the light bar to make it start working again.

    Ah, the good ole days.

  • Timber Beast

    I’m with Su on the dome light. It’s battery powered because the factory dome light has been removed/disabled. The battery powered one is for doing paperwork at night or reading the latest Tom Clancy novel.

  • Lee Lofland

    Yes, it is an oversized, extra bright dome light and all patrol cars have them. I even had one in my unmarked car. Timber Beast brought up a good point about disabling the interior lights in police cars. Cops do that to prevent a light from coming on automatically when they open the door.

    TB, our dome lights were hooked into the regular wiring system of the car. No individual batteries.

  • sdr633

    One thing that really surprised me was the horrible visibility, what with the cage and equipment mounted above and behind the front seat. There are some cars in the fleet I won’t back up.

  • Lee Lofland

    sdr – I agree. I suppose that’s why cops always stop in the middle of the street or park on the sidewalk when answering a complaint. That way they don’t have to back out into the street.

    Visibility was even worse back in the day when we had those expanded metal screens dividing the front and rear compartments.

    I can recall the day when we didn’t have any sort of screen or cage. Think how tough that was if you arrested someone who was combative. Wasn’t fun, but we got by. Sometimes, a little love tap with a Maglite took care of the problem.

  • Joyce Tremel

    “Sometimes, a little love tap with a Maglite took care of the problem.”

    Don’t you just love the good old days?

  • Lee Lofland

    I sure do. And I really miss them, too.

  • Elena

    How loud does the siren sound inside the car? Does it make it difficult to hear the radio?

  • Lee Lofland

    Hi Elena. Good question. Actually, the siren doesn’t sound loud at all, especially when driving at higher speeds. You can even carry on a conversation with a person in the passenger seat, and hearing the radio is no problem. I’m sure adrenaline and excitement are part of the reason officers don’t really hear their sirens.

    There is a formula regarding how sound travels, but I don’t remember it. Something about the the speed of a police car’s travel vs. the speed of sound, etc., etc.

    I also think we just tune out the sound like my wife tunes out my ramblings.

  • Terry

    When I did a ride-along, the laptop swiveled out of the way enough so there was room for me. What amazed me was the multi-tasking he had to do. Drive, type, listen to the radio, read what came onto the screen (and even answer my questions).

    At one point, we were driving and all the cars were moving out of the way (most of them, anyway). There was a distant-sounding siren. I asked if that was ‘us’ and was surprised that it was. Definitely quiet inside.

    Also, your photos showed a much cleaner car than the one I was in. There were handcuffs hanging from the handle for the outside spotlight, he kept his big Maglite on the seat behind him, and there were bottles of water and other miscellaneous personal items between my seat and the door. The backseat was full of forms, and there were more in the trunk, plus his shotgun and his Algebra book.

  • Lee Lofland

    Terry, I assure you that most police cars don’t look this way. Remember, they knew I was coming to take pictures for a book. Police cars are the officer’s mobile office. Everything they have is crammed inside somewhere.

    I kept extra handcuffs hanging from my spotlight handle, too.

  • Terry

    (Aside — your book, Police Procedure & Investigation, arrived this morning. The section on fingerprints has already solved one of my WIP questions)

  • Lee Lofland

    I’m so glad it helped. I’ll be doing a couple blogs about fingerprinting, soon.

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