With more and more law enforcement agencies doing away with pursuits, public sector fleet managers are often left wondering whether they still need vehicles in their fleets capable of taking on pursuits.
For sworn officers who manage their fleets, the value of pursuit-rated vehicles is likely a no-brainer. You drive these vehicles for a living, so you know what they can do, and what you need them to do. But for many fleet managers, the idea of a vehicle that can go from 0 to 60 in only a few seconds is terrifying. I heard buzz from multiple fleet managers considering eliminating the use of pursuit-rated vehicles from their fleets entirely at two separate industry events this year.
I had a chance to speak to someone who can tell you all about one of the testing events OEMs uses to prove their pursuit-rated vehicles do what they say they can do — Mike McCarthy, retired lieutenant of Michigan State Police’s (MSP) precision driving unit. MSP conducts a police vehicle evaluation each year, extensively testing the latest model year vehicles available for purchase.
“The manufacturers make a vehicle that they find is capable of all police work, and they deem it pursuit-rated,” McCarthy said. “When we do the testing, we're kind of validating their engineering work. Our vehicle testing program was designed to work all the components of the vehicle. And if it survived the testing, we considered it a passing score and validated their rating of their vehicle as being pursuit-rated.”
Don’t Let the Name Scare You
The title “pursuit-rated” is just that — a title. The title, though, can be concerning to fleet managers who run fleets for departments that don’t allow pursuits. To make a vehicle pursuit-rated, OEMs adjust a standard vehicle, doing things like changing the calibrations for cooling, or the transmission, or the suspension components.
McCarthy understands the confusion — and the concern — from fleet managers about the title. He previously tried to change the standard term to “police duty cycle-rated.”
“But [the manufacturers] thought that might be confusing to everybody; [they’ve] had the pursuit rated moniker since you know, the 1970s. So they didn't really want to change the title. But that's more of what it really is. It's capable of doing all the jobs a police officer may come upon. It's not all about pursuits. It's just about making a stronger vehicle,” McCarthy explained.
How OEMs Upgrade their Vehicles
So what goes into upgrading a vehicle to pursuit-rated? I asked reps from The Big 3 OEMs to explain.
Enhanced Capabilities on Ford Vehicles
Ford pursuit-rated police vehicles are specially engineered to perform police duties by, “combining the best of Built Ford Tough trucks and SUVs with enhanced performance capabilities used in law enforcement applications,” Ford Pro Police Brand Marketing Manager Lindsey Bertino explained. Those applications can include high-speed driving and hard braking.
The Ford Police Interceptor Utility (PIU) SUV and F-150 Police Responder pickup truck have unique features that provide enhanced safety and security and heavy-duty components which provide better durability, reliability, longer vehicle life, and improved resale value, Bertino said.
Ford pursuit-rated police vehicles are purpose-built to accommodate both law enforcement and first responders in their daily duties with an upfit-ready mobile office.
“Ford police vehicles which are designed to be pursuit-capable offer better durability with less effect on the vehicle from constant use, which helps reduce total fleet maintenance,” Bertino added.
Agencies that Ford works with often prefer pursuit-rated for the extra layer of safety they can bring to officers on duty.
GM Vehicles Built to Withstand Tough Demands
Pursuit-rated products are built for high-speed chases, hard braking, and rigorous driving. At GM, pursuit-rated vehicles are built with pursuit-rated tires, Brembo brakes, and a heavy-duty cooling system to sustain the demands of a high-speed chase.
“While those features are critical for pursuit missions, the electrical architecture, police calibrations, law enforcement options, and a design for easy upfitting are what has the broader appeal for the law enforcement community,” GM Envolve Government Sales Manager Cindy Towe said.
But it also goes further than the undercarriage and what’s under the hood.
“We spend a lot of time and effort to ensure the ergonomics are right,” Towe explained. “We want to ensure the vehicle will be comfortable for the officers, easy to get in/out [of], easy for them to get detainees in/out of the vehicle. We have police-specific seats designed for duty belts and put special consideration where switches and ports are placed to ensure easy access to lights and equipment.”
The calibrations also allow vehicles can idle as long as needed while maintaining safe temperatures for passengers and/or K-9 officers. Additionally, the calibrations ensure safety sensors don't interfere with police equipment performance.
“The electrical capability is a must to ensure plenty of power to operate all the law enforcement equipment for the duration of a shift,” Towe said.
Adapting Stellantis Vehicles for Strenuous Job Requirements
Dodge pursuit-rated vehicles have undergone significant adaptations to meet the many strenuous requirements of law enforcement agencies, Stellantis Head of Government Fleet Sales and Operations Phil Bockhorn said. One of the major components includes a heavy-duty braking system, specifically developed to enhance the vehicle’s stopping power and durability during high-speed pursuits.
The vehicles are also equipped with steel wheels paired with pursuit-rated tires, providing “superior strength and resilience to handle various terrains encountered while on duty,” Bockhorn said.
Performance suspension and shock-tuning further contribute to enhanced handling and stability, allowing officers to maintain control and maneuverability even in demanding and fast-paced situations.
“To ensure accurate speed measurement, the vehicles are fitted with certified speedometers, allowing officers to maintain precise speed control, enabling traffic management, and promoting safety on the road,” Bockhorn explained.
Dodge Durango Pursuit vehicles also feature a Trizone air conditioning system that provides separate climate control zones for the well-being of the driver, passenger, and/or K-9 officer.
“The unique police lighting strategy employed by Dodge pursuit vehicles strikes a balance between visibility and discretion, enabling officers to maintain a low-profile appearance while still effectively signaling their presence in emergency situations, resulting in enhanced officer and public safety,” Bockhorn added.
Why Pursuit-Rated Vehicles Are Better for Your Police Fleet
Pursuit-rated vehicles don’t just need to be able to accelerate quickly — they also need to be able to stop quickly. The equipment on these vehicles allows them to do that.
“Number one is the brake packages they’ve come out with. They stop better,” McCarthy said. “Whether you're going from 45 miles an hour down to zero, or you're going from 120 miles an hour down to zero, braking is very important.”
As mentioned above, OEMs have worked hard to ensure that the components of the vehicle can withstand the duties of a law enforcement officer.
“You're getting more car by getting the pursuit-rated vehicle as far as everything from tires, to cooling capacities, to transmissions. There's a lot more that goes into those vehicles than the standard vehicle,” McCarthy explained. “A Dodge Charger off the shelf is not a Dodge Charger pursuit vehicle. And just because [a department] has a no pursuit-policy doesn't mean that that extra cooling, those extra brakes wouldn't help them down the line in some other situation.”
Even departments that don’t allow pursuits generally still allow emergency driving, like going over the speed limit to respond to calls. Pursuit-rated vehicles can be useful in those applications too.
“There’s no negative connotation [to having] pursuit-rated vehicles. More so the opposite. You don't want [officers] emergency driving in a vehicle that wasn't designed for it,” McCarthy said.
Michigan State Police Testing at a Glance
Michigan State Police conducts vehicle testing on a two-mile racetrack-style road made up of hills, curves, and corners. The course simulates actual conditions encountered in pursuit or emergency driving situations in the field, except for other traffic, according to the agency's Police Vehicle Evaluation Test Book.
The annual testing looks at several factors on the vehicles to see how they perform.
Vehicle Dynamics Testing
The purpose of the vehicle dynamics testing is to determine each vehicle’s high-speed pursuit or emergency response handling characteristics and performance in comparison to the other vehicles in the test group.
Each vehicle is driven a total of 32 timed laps, using four separate drivers, each driving an eight-lap series. The final score for the vehicle is the combined average from the four drivers of the five fastest laps for each diver during the eight-lap series.
The objective of the vehicle acceleration testing is to determine the ability of each test vehicle to accelerate from a standing start to 60 mph, 80 mph, 100 mph, and determine the distance to reach 100 mph and 120 mph.
The testing is done using a Racelogic Vbox 3i GPS-based data collection unit. Each vehicle is driven through four acceleration sequences, two northbound and two southbound, to allow for wind direction. The four resulting times for each target speed are averaged and the average times are used to derive scores for acceleration.
Top Speed Testing
The top speed testing is conducted to verify the electronically limited top speed reported by the manufacturer attainable by each test vehicle within 14 miles from a standing start.
Following the fourth acceleration run, each test vehicle continues to accelerate until it reaches the manufacturer electronically limited top speed. The distance to reach the electronically limited top speed must be reached within 14 miles.
The objective of brake testing is to determine the deceleration rate attained by each test vehicle on twenty 60-0 mph full anti-lock brake stops. Each vehicle is scored on the average deceleration rate it achieves.
To test the braking, each vehicle is driven to the north end of the straightaway on the east side of the oval. The vehicle then begins its sequence of stops heading in a southerly direction. The vehicle is stopped five times at pre-determined points on the roadway. The vehicle is then turned around and stops an additional five times again at pre-determined points on the roadway in a northerly direction.
After the ten stops, the vehicle drives one lap around the oval at 45 mph. This is done to cool the brakes before the second sequence. After the cool down lap, the ten stops are repeated. The data resulting from the twenty stops is used to calculate the average deceleration rate which is the vehicle’s score for the test.
Ergonomics and Communications Testing
The ergonomics and communication testing is conducted to rate each test vehicle's ability to:
- Provide a suitable environment for the patrol officer in the performance of his/her assigned tasks.
- Accommodate the required communications and emergency warning equipment and assess the relative difficulty of such installations.
Using a form in the vehicle test book, each category is rated on a scale from 1-10, with 1 representing “totally unacceptable”, 5 representing “average”, and 10 representing “superior”. The scores given are averaged to minimize personal prejudice for or against any given vehicle.
For the ergonomics portion of the form, a minimum of four officers individually and independently compare and score each test vehicle in several areas. These include comfort, convenience, instrumentation, and visibility. The installation and communications portion of the evaluation is conducted by personnel from the Michigan Public Safety Communications System. The scores are given based on the relative difficulty of the necessary installations.
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