Why did the patrol cars for APD change their appearance?
As part of our Curious New Mexico project, UNM student Kathleen Snyder asked “Why did the patrol cars for the Albuquerque Police Department change their appearance from the more friendly red, white and blue versions to the harder black and white versions?” Journalism major Kenneth Ferguson talked to key players involved in the process of changing the cars’ colors.
Under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Albuquerque Police Department is poised to make some major systemic changes related to how police officers deal with community members.
While the DOJ investigation has been the talk of the town, the department also is undergoing a more cosmetic change. The department is changing from the red, white and blue color scheme it has used since about 2000 to a vintage black and white scheme. At the same time, there are plans in the works to change cars again too.
The Crown Victoria
Since the early 2000s, APD has used the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor package squad cars that were designed with the red, white and blue color scheme.
According to Ford.com, vehicles with the Police Interceptor package offer some features not available to other models. These features include ballistic-resistant door panels and reinforced internal framing while other options such as side curtain airbags and back up cameras are available to the public. A full dialogue of what is offered with the Police Interceptor package is available here.
The cars were painted white at the factory and then the red, white and blue graphics were added to them.
John Skinner, a police officer with APD who flies APD’s helicopter, designed the red, white and blue graphics used on the Crown Victorias. Skinner, who has worked in graphic design for 20 years, also designed the black and white cars now used by the department. Skinner’s design schemes can be seen on police cars across New Mexico and even with departments in Texas and Colorado. Skinner originally designed APD’s patch in 1994, and that led to him designing APDs squad cars.
While the body style of the Crown Victorias continued to change over the years, the color and decals scheme stayed the same for nearly a decade.
The one helicopter that APD uses is still red, white and blue and “as of now there are no plans to change it,” Skinner said.
The red, white and blue vehicles will need to be grandfathered out as the new cars are purchased and put into circulation. For the foreseeable future, the department will continue to have red, white and blue cars on patrol.
The Dodge Charger
Since 2011, APD has used the Dodge Chargers, which are used as police cars by departments across the country. The Chargers are ordered in solid black and then the white section is painted by a local painter. The initial plan was to wrap the cars to make them black and white, but Skinner suggested that would not work due to the high temperatures and constant sunshine in the southwest which would cause damage to the wrap over time.
“When you think of fire trucks, you think of a red truck. When you think of police cars, you think black and white,” Skinner said. While some might see the darker design on the Chargers as intimidating, APD is following a national trend of using a black and white color scheme.
“In western culture, black symbolizes death, it’s also used in design and fashion in ways that have nothing to do with death. I am not aware of any studies on how people react to car colors in particular,” said Vincent Clark, a professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico.
APD first ordered the Chargers in 2011, and after a few years of using them, some problems became apparent. The larger motors did allow for the cars to be faster but this caused the brakes to wear out faster.
“Instead of the 5.7 liter V8 (engines in the Charger), this one is a six cylinder (engine in the new SUVs). It is our plan to save money on brakes, tires,” said APD Detective Nick Kraemer, who has been assigned to the Operations Review Division for just over a year and is in charge of ordering the cars and the accessories they require.
Many cars required new brakes and new brake rotors in their short life times and it was costing the city money. As a result, APD already has plans to move away from them. Now after just a few short years, APD will be moving away from the Chargers and going back to Ford who has reintroduced the police interceptor package this time on the Ford Explorer SUV crossover vehicle.
The Ford Explorer
As of now, plans for the Explorers are solid white paint with black lettering that is effectively just a sticker. The Explorers are staying with the black and white fad but have cut back on the black and look drastically different from the Chargers.
“It is my job to trim the fat when it comes to the cost of the cars without sacrificing quality,” Kraemer said.
With the way the Explorers are designed, each officer will keep the same car through the extent of their career even through promotions. Every uniformed officer on the department will eventually receive the Explorers so when an officer gets promoted he or she will keep the same car but just have the supervisor decals added to the exterior of the car. With APDs current car situation, supervisors and officers in special units have distinct cars that are different from the normal patrolman. With the new Explorers, this will be a thing of the past.
“By ordering the Explorers white, I am saving $850 per car not having to wrap them, effectively that allows me to place a radar detector in each car,” Kraemer said.
“The Chargers cost just shy of $43,000 each after being made patrol ready,” Kraemer said. This includes the cost of the car, the doors being painted, the stickers being installed and then having all of the extra equipment added to them.
As of now, the Explorers are in the testing phase and the department has only ordered one. If the testing phase goes as expected the department will begin to order these new crossover vehicles in bunches in the new fiscal year as they did the Crown Victorias and the Chargers.
Each fiscal year, the budget for the department fluxuates and this affects the money available to order the cars. It is not set in stone how many cars the department may order or how many it will be able to order until the budget is sorted out each year.
“The only reason a department may have a larger budget would be that replacing vehicles is a high priority that year,” said Gerald Romero, who is the budget officer at the Department of Finance and Administrative Services for the City of Albuquerque.
APD now has a plan in place to make the department universal with a black and white scheme, but it could take several years to complete the change.
As of February of this year, APD has 714 marked units in its fleet of vehicles. The marked vehicles make up just over half of APDs entire vehicle fleet, which includes prisoner vans, marked units, unmarked units, decoy vehicles, motorcycles, trailers and any other vehicle not including the departments helicopter and the departments airplane. Per the city rule and regulations, the department is allowed — and supposed to have — 1,450 units, but Kraemer said he does not see having that many vehicles at one time anytime soon even after ordering the new Explorers.
Much like the reforms that were ordered by the Department of Justice, the new designs will take a bit of getting used to.
“People may need more time to recognize police cars as such when they come in a variety of designs,” Clark said.
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