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Why We Leave Our Squad Cars Running
Jeff Long, July 9, 2012 | Public Safety
You may have noticed that our squad cars are left running when our officers are not in them. There is a multitude of reasons we do so and this week’s blog gives me a great opportunity to describe why.
The assumption that I often hear from people is that we are “wasting gas” or “officers are just being lazy.” There is nothing further from the truth. You would not expect to enter Braemar Arena and have the refrigeration system off — that would be senseless because the ice would melt. Just as you would not expect that scenario, you would not expect an officer to show up to save someone you love with a heart defibrillator battery that’s dead. However, that would be the case if we didn’t maintain a proper temperature for the equipment.
Today’s squad cars are literally mobile offices; we spend 12 hours a day in our mobile office. I actually chuckle when people talk about officers “wasting energy.” That is really “the pot calling the kettle black.” Think of the energy consumed 16 hours a day when most office buildings are closed. Businesses heat and air condition these huge buildings year round and they are empty 65 percent of each day! We do not ask office workers to shut down the electricity to the building when they leave. Can you imagine turning off all heat and air conditioning every time you leave the building? Think of the energy used by leaving every office building in Edina heated and air conditioned every day of the year … I won’t even mention what is left on in all of our homes! However, it is done for a reason, and it is not necessarily a waste. There are reasons these things are done in offices, homes and in the Police Department’s mobile offices.
I have had this discussion enough to know what the next thought is for many people: “Well, Chief, that would be crazy to shut down the power in our buildings. We have computers and technology that you can’t just shut down. We have equipment that is temperature sensitive. We would have frozen water lines. Our workers would be less productive if they have to wait 20 minutes to cool down or warm up every time they come and go.” My response is always “you are right, it would be crazy.”
It would also be crazy to shut down an Officer’s office. The unique thing about our job is that our lives depend on being sharp and frankly, sometimes your life depends on us being sharp! Study after study shows that heat and cold have a direct effect on our bodies. In order for you read some of the studies that show the dramatic impact that temperate can have on the body, please take time to Google “Environmental temperature effect performance in the workplace.”
Again, I have been around long enough to know what question follows that one, which would be: “Well, Chief, there are all sorts of people that work outside in extreme conditions. Your officers should be able to also.” I think that is a good point, with the exception that officers are wearing long pants and ballistic vests. Ballistic vests use between 20 and 40 layers of very strong fiber, depending on the protection level. That is equal to 20 layers of clothing that the officers have added to their body — yes 20 layers of clothing! Even on even a cool summer day that generates a lot of body heat. In addition, gun belts around the waist average about 10 pounds.
Our officers must be sharp at all times. We, as residents, cannot afford to have their fine motor skills diminished from getting in a car that is 10 degrees and rush to a call in which they may need to pull the trigger of their gun. We cannot afford to have an officer get into a car that is 180 degrees and rush to a home to perform CPR when the officers are overheating and unable to function.
Just like many offices, our cars now have computers, scanners, printers and video cameras mounted inside. We also carry equipment with sensitive batteries. Although we have special car batteries, they cannot take a constant drain from the equipment we carry when the car is turned off.
I understand the concern about leaving our cars running. This is a new era for police officers. We understand the human body much better than we did 30 years ago; we know the damage that heat and cold can do.
I always remind people that I am a resident here, too. If I have an emergency, the officer that shows up better be able to do his or her job. Whether it is saving my life from an intruder or being able to perform first aid on my loved ones, an overheated officer is a useless for an emergency. How do I know this? Let me tell you a true story!
In 1993, our squad cars were not what they are now. When they idled, the air conditioners would start blowing warm air. Our seats were these horrible plastic, rubbery things that just held in the heat. I was working in the late afternoon and we came across a stolen car. We watched the car for a while hoping to catch the person who had been driving it. After sitting in my hot car for about 20 minutes, the suspect was able to get into the car before we could get to him. I ended up in a high-speed pursuit that was followed by a 0.75-mile foot pursuit. The temperature that day was in the mid 90s and I had all of my equipment on. I caught the bad guy who was dressed in shorts and tennis shoes.
The bad guy went to jail and I went to the hospital for heat exhaustion. My body quit cooling itself and I lost three days work. I went from a hot car to running in 95 degree heat in long pants and a bullet proof vest. Again, an officer who is too cold or too hot will be inadequate.
We receive approximately 50,000 calls for service each year. If one of those calls is for you, the officers and their equipment will be ready as they respond from their mobile office.