About the Author

Jeff Long is Edina's former Police Chief, having served the City's Police Department from 1987 to 2013.

Why We Leave Our Squad Cars Running

Jeff Long, July 9, 2012 | Posted in 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.

18 Responses to Why We Leave Our Squad Cars Running

  1. Joey says:

    I think people meant the use of common sense on turning the car off. I’ve never heard of a case where a defibrillator was used. Also comparing a car to an entire building is overkill. We all understand why a building is left on AND why a squad car would be left on if its zero degrees out. It’s the ones who just leaves them on for no reason is what they are referring to.

    I actually chuckled too reading the blog, sounded exactly like the people complaining too.


  2. Rita says:

    Why would my neighbor who is a sheriff have his cop car on idle at his residence for hours with him not in it. By the way he recently got an upgrade, a spanking new one. My contention is that he jacked up the engine on purpose.

  3. When is the police department blog going to begin again? I think Edina would like to hear from our new Chief.

  4. mb says:

    RE: not directly related to leaving squad cars running, but…. It seems more and more that Edina Police use unmarked cars (identified by “police” license plates). I realize the benefit of unmarked cars for speed traps. But marked police cars allow citizens to more easily identify and wave down a patrol officer for a car breakdown, emergency, robbery, whatever, than an unmarked car.

    Unmarked cars are fine for “undercover” work, but for patrol, in my opinion it’s unhelpful for citizens in distress.

  5. Eric Hove says:

    Very well written and an excellent way to demonstrate the reasons why officers leave the car running. If I may add my own two cents, I work for a company which up-fits police vehicles and officers also leave the car running to keep K-9 officers cool as well. We do several k-9 vehicles and each one is inspected to ensure it will remain running in the instance that a police dog may need to stay in the car. Just as residents shouldn’t leave their dogs in hot cars, k-9 officers shouldn’t be left either- another excellent reason to leave the car running.

  6. Wordpress website design says:

    Lovely work! I’m definitely going to visit the blog frequently.

  7. boston limo says:

    An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been doing a little homework on being a police man. And he in fact bought me lunch because I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to talk about this issue here on your internet site. and thanks for permitting me to leave a comment.

  8. Mike Lenz says:

    Great comment and I really like your city blog pages.
    Wish our city (Brooklyn Park) had something similar.

  9. Sharon says:

    I will forever appreciate a squad car with its engine running. Thanks for explanation.

  10. Michelle Rose says:

    So much appreciation for the facts and rationale. Thank you!

  11. John says:

    As a construction worker that works in anything from 100 degrees outside in the sun to below zero to 120 degrees inside next to furnaces or inside freezers, I have experienced extreme temp fluctuation. I’m jealous of your jobs comfort and safety. It is not unique to your job that you must be sharp to protect your life. Construction, farming, heavy machine operating, many forms of manufacturing are all jobs where one simple mistake could easily lead to death or dismemberment.
    I support officers leaving their vehicles running, but please remember there are many of us who have jobs that are more dangerous and don’t have that luxury. I hope your hands are warm and your defib batteries are charged if you ever find me at the scene of a work accident.

  12. Elizabeth Tichy says:

    Thanks from Hibbing, MN for this great explanation.
    More importantly, thank you to all the hero Officers
    that give so much to help others!! :)

  13. Keith says:

    Well Jim u clearly captured the essence of his explanation to see the parallel. The understood and expected industry and societal standard is to NOT shut down everything when work is done and people leave. And yes our taxes pay for some of that as well in the millions of square feet of government buildings around the state and country that behave similarly to private industry in this respect. Additionally, the operating costs of
    Private businesses (in this particular case climate control) are recouperated in the price of the item, goods, or service we buy as a consumer. It’s just a fact of life.

    At any rate, as the chief points out, it’s not irresponsible, wasteful, or out of norm to leave squads running and I’m glad the Chief took the time to explain it to folks. A little explanation can go a long way in understanding and reducing resentment towards Police Officers.

  14. kari says:

    Great explanation! I hope more and more people start to be more understanding! My husband is a cop so I know all about this and more. Thank you for spreading the word and thank you so much for your service Sir!

  15. Linda Mundell says:

    Thank you for the informative article…I wish you would share it with my chief of police in Duluth Minnesota as it reminds me of something on his blog! I compute to give information but one of my Facebook friends had just been spammed by someone that hacked into his Computer, said Alan Cutter…I happily type things not sure if computer security is all its wrapped up to be…best of luck to you and stay safe and warm out there. Linda

  16. Jim Johnson says:

    I couldn’t agree more except comparing to business. Taxes don’t pay their heat. Other than that good explanation! Never really thought of it that way.

  17. Chris Rofidal says:

    Well done! Just explaining the why is what people need to hear! Thanks for all that the EPD does!

  18. Sid Sampson says:

    Thank you for a well written explanation on why you leave the patrol cars running.

    It’s always nice to hear the rest of the story!

    Well done Chief Long.

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