Real Wheels: The evolution of police cars

Frank Loomis, a little-known mechanical engineer in Akron, was 123 years ahead of his time.

Loomis designed the first electric car, which was purchased by the Akron Police Department in 1899. It didn’t come cheaply, selling for $2,400, or $65,000 in today’s currency.

According to Vintage News, the battery-powered police car was powered by two 4-horsepower electric motors. It could go 30 miles with the batteries fully charged and reach speeds of 18 miles per hour, which was an amazing feat for the time, and also made it the nation’s first muscle car.

It was equipped with electric headlights, a gong, a stretcher, a cell for prisoners and seating for a squad of 12 police officers, hence came the name squad car.

Akron police used it for a year before it met its fate during a lynch-mob riot that saw it pushed into the Ohio Canal. It was pulled out of the muddy waters the next day and used until 1905, when it was sold as scrap for $25. The reason: Much faster gasoline-powered powered cars hit the market and became the tool of gangsters. Police needed to keep up.

Going electric

The irony, of course, is that in today’s automotive world, the “need to keep up” is all about going electric.

Law enforcement agencies as well as automakers and the general public are looking into the crystal ball, trying to figure out the landscape of electric vehicles.

The challenge is especially true for the Ohio State Highway Patrol. It has a fleet of 1,284 active marked vehicles, which includes 987 Dodge Chargers, 10 Dodge Durangos, 156 Chevrolet Tahoes and 101 Ford Explorers – none of which are electric vehicles.

“We have orders for hybrid enforcement Ford Explorers for evaluation, but at present there is no all-electric vehicle that is suitable for the 24/7 needs for the division, particularly given the lack of infrastructure to allow for quick charging at post locations, said Sgt. Brice Nihiser, a public affairs officer at the patrol’s Columbus headquarters.

Under the hood

What’s under the hood of Ohio patrol cars is already in a state of change. A special Dodge Charger with a V8 engine was sold exclusively to police agencies for several years, but that no longer is the case.

“The V8 all-wheel drive vehicle was discontinued in 2020, so the 2021 model year moving forward is an all-wheel-drive V6. This particular model is the same model available to the general public,” Nihiser said.

“In the future, we will continue to monitor available law enforcement models and options from all manufacturers, including all-electric vehicles when they become more widely available for law enforcement specific use,” Nihiser added.

This 1938 Ford Deluxe Tudor was one of the first cars used by the Ohio State Patrol. It is shown with standard traveling gear, which included an ax, shotgun, gas, oil and lantern.

The 1957 Ford Fairlane Sunliner was one of the convertibles that were part of the Ohio State Highway Patrol fleet from the 1930s through the 1950s. It is believed the rag-tops were used mainly for public relations and parade duty.

The 1975 Plymouth Gran Fury – also known as a “cherry top” – was part of the transition to all-white state patrol vehicles during the 1970s. Prior to that, the color of choice was black. In 1982, the white cars would be replaced with sterling silver cars. Ten years later would see a movement toward gray cars.

A lime green 1978 Ford LTD was part of a study the National Highway Safety Department did in conjunction with the Cleveland Police Department from 1972 to 1978. The goal was to increase the visibility of safety vehicles. By 1982, the police cars were back to their original colors.

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