Few police vehicles are more iconic than the New York Police Department’s (NYPD’s) patrol vehicles. In fact, you likely recognized the patrol car in main photo for this story as an NYPD vehicle.
That’s why, in January 2023, when the department unveiled new decals for the vehicles, it insighted curiosity in police fleets and enthusiasts across the country.
The agency will no longer be sporting those well-known decals with two blue stripes on its vehicles. Once the decal change is complete across the entire NYPD fleet, drivers will see three green stripes and one navy blue stripe with a star design, an homage to the agency’s flag.
A law enforcement agency’s vehicle color scheme and decals are part of its identity. So why change things up when that’s how people know the vehicles? There are a few reasons fleets choose to make the change. For some agencies, it’s about modernizing the fleet’s look. For others, it’s about cost savings.
Cutting Costs with New Vehicle Colors
For the Green Bay, Wisconsin, Police Department, the decision to change the vehicle design came down to saving money. Earlier this year, the agency announced it was updating its vehicle colors from black with white doors, to all-black with a blue stripe along the side. The cost to paint the doors white was around $1,200 per vehicle, which added up, Police Capt. Clint Beguhn said.
“We had tried different things throughout the years. We tried wrapping the doors to save money. We found that those would tend to peel and come off after a period of time, because we're running these things some of the time 24/7, from one shift to the next to the next,” Beguhn added.
In addition to opting for an all-black vehicle, Green Bay PD’s decal scheme will also change. The department worked with an external company to come up with several options for its new design. Members of the police department voted on which design they liked best. The department chose a design that implemented the popular “thin blue line” that represents the law enforcement community, as well as stars that were reminiscent of the stars on the American flag.
New Green Bay police cars will receive the updated decals as they are procured. Not using paint on the doors will make it easier to sell the vehicles after they reach the end of their lifecycle within the department. Once the decals are removed, they will be ready to sell. Previously, the department had to paint the doors back to their original color before going to auction. Now, that won’t be required.
The department stopped putting officers’ unit numbers on the roofs of vehicles, since the agency doesn’t have air units. That also led to cost savings.
Beguhn said officers have liked the new design so far, with some saying the lack of a white door makes the vehicles able to blend in more easily.
Creating Consistency Within the Fleet
Beguhn said within the next few years, as the department receives new vehicles, more vehicles will have the new color scheme and decals, which will help create consistency within the fleet.
That’s something a Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau spokesperson agreed with.
“I think that police agencies should probably follow regular branding ideals. That means building a consistent brand and not continuing to change logos [or] decals if their community has gotten used to them and that is what is familiar to them,” Public Information Officer Terri Wallo Strauss said.
The Portland Police Bureau recently changed its vehicle decals and color schemes for the first time since 2011. The previous vehicle design used a dark blue paint color with white doors. The department was unable to get vehicles with the blue paint, leading to the need for a change.
The new design features an all-black vehicle with a red rose to symbolize the department’s service to Portland, nicknamed the Rose City. It also features badge decals with the names of Portland police officers killed in the line of duty as a reminder of their sacrifice.
The agency discontinued the white door wraps it previously used, because the material did not hold up well to the rigors of police work and tended to get scuffed easily, according to a press release.
Encouraging Community Engagement Through Law Enforcement Fleets
A recent trend among law enforcement fleets when new vehicle designs are debuted is some kind of decal that promotes community engagement.
For Portland Police, this meant including the X (formerly known as Twitter) handle for the department on the rear quarter-panel. It’s designed to encourage the community to follow the Police Bureau on X and other social media channels for information like crime information, updates, and community engagement.
The NYPD’s updated design features a QR code that, once scanned, takes people to the department’s website so they can learn more about the agency.
The vehicle design update allows for opportunities to do things like add QR codes or social media channel information.
Expect Resistance to Change
As with any change, there will always be some hesitancy or negative reactions. In Green Bay’s case, this came from department retirees.
“A lot of the feedback I get from our retirees, they prefer the traditional black and white design, but there's always that thing in law enforcement where we dislike the way things are, but we dislike change as well. So they're getting used to it.”
Still, the change will lead to cost savings, which Beguhn thinks will be popular among taxpayers.
“I think the cost savings and the way that we're trying to be fiscally responsible and make the public's dollar go as far as possible has been well received,” Beguhn said.
Sometimes, change is necessary if the department has evolved.
“In many ways a police vehicle is a traveling billboard for who you are as a police department. Therefore, when you feel your department has evolved, it may be time to change the design,” Beguhn added. “In some instances, a new design may show change in values or focus of the agency or become more reflective of the community. Our new design had a lot to do with finding that there could be further savings of taxpayer dollars, but it’s also a design that our officers felt reflected our department’s values and who we represent. We used the traditional police color of blue as well as highlighted our community ‘Green Bay’ in silver. Regardless, new designs should be easily recognizable.”