In this first of my weekly posts, I present the illustration that started me down this rabbit hole a couple years ago.
I started doing these illustrations after I found a “Bear Spotter’s Guide” from the December 1977 Car and Driver that featured all the state police and highway patrol vehicles from every US state, and asked myself what a more modern one would look like. So, inspired by that and the colored line drawings found in older car brochures, I put one together using the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Two little differences are the use of the Hawaii Sheriff in place of the Honolulu Police, as that state has no actual state police/highway patrol agency, and the addition of the District of Columbia.
Here’s that 1977 inspiration:
Continuing on the theme was the Ford Explorer Police Interceptor Utility. This time I was able to find photo references for the various U.S. territories, so they are on this one.
And finally, a trip back to the 1980s. Also harkening back to the original inspiration and lack of photo references, the Honolulu Police represents Hawaii.
Next week, we are going to take a look at some New York City taxis.
Hawaii has no official state police ?! Was Jack Lord pulling the wool over our eyes all those years? I’m not sure about the state Troopers in my state but the local law enforcement vehicles are going more and more to ghost markings. They show up in headlights but are next to impossible to see otherwise. Of course, you’ll know when the lights come on. 🙂
I’ve noticed something similar down South: the NC state highway patrol use non-reflector markings which are evident by day but can’t see them at night (previously I thought reflector tape was a safety feature). During the day their unmarked cars (typically Chargers) are in regulation silver without the stripes, but gives aways are dog dish caps and small UHF antenna pods (hard to spot light bars anymore), sometimes they’ll have a state SHP plate (easy). One county sheriff dept preferred not to have any markings on the rear deck or bumper so they can sit by the side of the road in the dark, and nail you for speeding (the sides had all the livery). In my GA county the county police (unincorporated parts) have black cars with grey lettering. I see push bars mostly on state patrol and urban police depts nowadays. It’s not like seeing the old Adam-12 bubbles atop the car, one has to look for certain features and humps. Some cars just look the part. In that case, slow down and let someone else take the fall.
That would make a great composite: tell tale signs of an unmarked bear that’s ready to bite.
Police can be just as sneaky, especially after the sun goes down. About 1973 I was given a speeding violation by the Maryland State Police. The cruiser was parked on the inside left shoulder on Interstate I-270, up against a Jersey wall concrete barrier over 8 feet tall, and just after a left curve. He was in a perfect “gotcha” position.
Problem was, I never saw any lights or reflections. No headlights, taillights or brake lights. No 4-way flashers or emergency equipment lights. Not even a taillight reflection from my headlights.
At the time of the citation I was a member of Federal law enforcement [Military Police]. I also know if that vehicle is parked on the shoulder [especially on an interstate highway], the minimum requirement is the 4-way flashers MUST BY LAW be turned on. As he had an emergency light [single red rotator on the roof] it had to be turned on if he was on the shoulder, even if not actually parked.
The citation said I was doing in excess of 80mph. I knew I was driving no more than between 65 and 70, and the limit was at that time, 65. [This was pre-55.] As an MP, I had to be careful about speeding, as the Army would be notified of the citation.
A couple of visits to the parking lot of the local state police confirmed something I feared had happened; I found several 1967 to 71 unmarked Ford Custom 500 police cruisers with black electrical tape over the taillight reflectors. An obvious and blatant disregard of safety equipment, and a case of entrapment. Photos were discretely taken.
Heading north, I did a drive-by at a little after 11pm that Friday evening, and the same cruiser was in that exact location. So I drove by, exiting at the next interchange. I took the other direction south, back 2 exits, then headed north again, My Canon SLR camera [with auto-wind] was mounted to the dashboard with a remote trigger. I actuated the camera and it took about 10 black & white photos as I drove by in the left lane, at a steady 60mph. I had made sure no other vehicles were nearby.
I developed the photos the next day, and it was clear the car had no lights on, and no reflection could be seen from either taillights. My headlights DID light-up the vehicle’s license plate, showing the MSP number. Also clearly present was the old “chrome-dome” radar detector, hanging out the right rear window.
On Monday morning I asked to see my company commander. After arriving at his office, I explained the situation, and laid out all the evidence. He looked up at me and smiled, before saying “Good detective work Corporal Mack. What do you want to do now?” I honestly didn’t know, so I asked him for his advice. He suggested I go to the State Police Commander at the Baltimore HQ and present the evidence. He had his secretary call ahead and get me an appointment.
That appointment resulting in me learning a valuable lesson: Always go to the top when there is a serious problem. The MSP Commandant quickly had the MSP internal affairs division investigate. About 3 days later my citation was dismissed as well as every speeding citation by that trooper that evening. I was later presented with a letter of merit by my C.O., and informed that the trooper no longer worked for the MSP, plus multiple police cruisers were determined to have blacked-out reflectors, and that issue was quickly remedied.
Wow, that’s a cool story!
Here on Hawaii Island, aka Big Island, all county law enforcement patrol vehicles are unmarked. This was even more true in 1977, when personal vehicles were “leased” to the county by the officers. Mostly suv’s now, but some Chargers as well.
However, a blue roof light is always on when on duty. Hard to miss. This is similar to California requirement for always on rear blue lights on motorcycles.
That would make a great neck tie pattern!
My kids grew up in my Crown Vic Sport and call these Crown Victorias, “working versions of Daddy’s car”. They’re slowly disappearing!
I’m driving a ’93 “aero” with about 56K, at this point. Great car.
I’m a bit amazed that I still see a few Crown Vic’s working still working as law enforcement vehicles, considering the newest Crown Vic’s are now 10 years old. They are tough cars, that’s for sure.
I can see quite a few Crown Vic’s working where I live. I can also see them in their parking lot since I drive by the HQ five times a week 6 blocks from my house.
Nice work! Can we get these in an enlargeable version?
I wonder how many drunks climbed into the back seat of a yellow police car and announced “Take me to 1313 Mockingbird Lane Cabbie”. I lived in a town that had yellow cruisers back in the late 70’s. Not only were they yellow but they were like a fluorescent so that they glowed. If that wasn’t bad enough the department adopted the Smokey and The Bandit style uniform at the same time with cowboy hats and cowboy boots. If that all wasn’t stupid enough, this town was a suburb of Boston. Cowboy hats? Not much cattle in them parts.
A friend of mine used to work the handicapped-parking enforcement detail, and someone jumped into the back of his Crown Vic (which had prominent town markings and a huge amber light bar) and asked for a ride to the airport. A baffling encounter for all concerned that day.
I do think I saw the one from 77 at some point.
One thing that stuck out for me is that in the one with the Aero Vics for my state it has the passenger side graphic on the driver’s side while the rest have it correct.
Otherwise nice job and pretty cool to see.
Great collection. I have recounted before how I when I was working for Chrysler in their New York Sales Distribution Office in the 1970’s and that in early April the Dodge dealer from Norwalk, CT called me. The Norwalk, CT Police Department had lost three cruisers in one week and could really use four. The problem was that special equipment orders, which are police vehicles, had been cut off as of April First. So while the keypunch operators were out to lunch (yes, we used cards in 1977!), I keypunched complete Coronet baseline models, WL41, with all of the special equipment options from welds, to tires, to wiring, cooling, engine specifications and more and submitted them. A week later my boss got a call from the plant manager at Hamtramck. Was he ever annoyed! The cars went into acceptance and then scheduling right under his nose. He complained that he had to order all of those parts but his slotted mind was finished with special orders. Tsk, tsk! Norwalk, CT received their Police Special Coronets! No, I never went to a confessional. That’s not my religion.
Be careful with this. Arizona now has a new livery on its cars using shades of gray. Singularly unattractive.
Very true. I saw a Car Carrier full of them being delivered in Chandler, AZ a year or two ago. SUV’s at that. No reflective markings on the sides, at all. Just dark gray with darker gray insignia for the DPS. Department of Public Safety, State troopers to those elsewhere.
Today, at least in the mid-Atlantic region, the Ford Explorer is the choice for almost all the police agencies. These can be hard to spot, but here are some “tells” that can identify one that is in “plainclothes”;
Paint is almost always black.
Black spotlight at driver’s side of windshield frame.
2″ tall lights across the top of the rear tailgate window [can be hard to spot if the glass is darkly tinted]
Much wider tires than typical Explorer
Chrome hubcaps are tiny, or depending on year/model, sometimes black plastic.
In addition, the roof lights today are only about 2″ tall, and at first glance can be mistaken for a roof rack. Plus, if an Explorer is in your rear view mirror, look for small lights up at the top of the windshield [inside the car, hanging off the visors]. Hopefully these can be seen before the driver turns them on so you can see them!
In our area, on the high speed roads, traffic often moves at well over 70mph [55mph limit]. Some of the law enforcement groups are known to get behind a line of fast moving cars, and pick off the last one in the line, so it helps to be able to identify what kind of car suddenly pulls up behind you, before they have the opportunity to establish your overall speed prior to pulling you over. [They usually need to follow you for at least a 1/4 mile to establish your overall speed.]
The above information is provided as a public service by a former member of law enforcement and is not intended to aid in breaking any laws!
Connecticut is fun with state police in that the majority of cruisers are unmarked but have a light bar and push bar. The only marked ones I think are for special duty. Not sure why they do this but it has been that way for decades. CT is also unusual in that troopers are allowed to use their cruisers off duty as personal vehicles.
This is pretty awesome… I became aware of police cars in the era where my town used 1980-85 Chevrolet Impalas, switching to the box Caprice after that. Then they went to the beluga Caprice and hung on to them for longer than usual, finally going with the Panther Fords after they were the only thing left on the market for full size rwd sedans. I think Montana Highway Patrol was mostly Chevrolet in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, but went to Ford after that. Our sheriffs seemed to drive Dodge Diplomats until they were well past their prime.
During my misspent youth, my friends and I got very good at identifying the lighting signature of these cars in the dark, as most of our activities involved sneaking out at night to pull our shenanigans… most of the time, the curfew violation was the worst infraction we coulda been charged with, though it was always best to sneak back in the same way we went out, rather than having a cop re-deliver us to the front door after waking our parents.