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A common sight for police cars is to see them left running. This is especially the case when they are parked in front of businesses. It might seem like a waste of taxpayer money and gas, so why do cops always keep the police car idling?

Reasons why police cars are left running for a long time 

Patrol vehicle on the street, highlighting why cops always leave a police car idling
Police car | Tom Morbey via Unsplash

It might be frustrating for some people to see a police car left running for a long time, burning through gas and their hard-earned taxpayer money. There are many cases of residents complaining about this idling practice. Is it for convenience? Is it so cops can stay comfortably warm in the winter and cool in the summer?

While some cops might idle a police car for the sake of comfort, for the most part, it’s due to three primary reasons:

  1. Essential equipment in police cars requires energy to operate
  2. Protect the equipment from extreme heat and cold
  3. Keep the vehicle cool in hot weather for K-9 dogs

News-Review and the San Diego Tribune discussed this idling issue with police officers. Let’s cover each of these reasons in greater detail. 

Essential equipment requires energy to operate

Rear view of patrol vehicle, highlighting why cops always let a police car idle
Police SUV | Willian Justen de Vasconcellos via Unsplash

The first reason why cops always leave the police car running is the vehicles contain essential equipment that needs to keep functioning at all times. And this equipment requires energy to operate. As detailed by Lt. Derrick Carroll from the Michigan State Police, for some components, this is a safety issue. 

He states that all police cars in the Michigan State Police Department have locators. And the dispatch centers use these locators to identify where the officers are at all times. Troopers also can also utilize the devices to see where other officers are located.

Additionally, the police cars feature in-vehicle computers, which are used for a variety of things. This includes checking the criminal record for suspects, running license plates through the DMV, viewing messages, and looking at the mapping system for complaints. Additionally, the vehicles feature in-vehicle cameras. 

There’s also a different computer system that stores audio and video for when officers have contact with civilians, as well as for vehicle pursuits and other types of emergency situations. All of this equipment consumes energy, so letting the car idle ensures that they are powered up at all times. 

Protect the equipment from extreme heat and cold

Another reason why cops always leave a police car idling is to protect the equipment from extreme heat and cold. This requires the heater to be left on during the winter and the air conditioner in the summer. 

For example, the vehicles contain automated defibrillators, which treat cardiac arrest. If exposed to extreme heat or cold for a prolonged time, the batteries in the defibrillators won’t function. Additionally, there are breath test devices for checking the blood alcohol levels of DUI suspects. This device also contains batteries that are sensitive to temperature extremes.

After finishing a shift, an officer removes this equipment from the vehicle and places it in an indoor location. However, while on duty, they must be kept at a moderate temperature via the car’s climate control system. 

Idle the police car to keep it cool in hot weather for K-9 dogs

The other reason to let a police car idle is to keep the vehicle cool in hot weather for K-9 dogs. Unfortunately, this is a serious problem, with instances of K-9 dogs dying in the scorching summer heat. 

In 2021, a cop left a K-9 dog in a patrol car for over four hours on a nearly 90-degree day in Melbourne, Florida. The vehicle was shut off without the climate system running — and the windows were closed. The dog’s handler later found the K-9 dead in the back of the car. Shockingly, the Florida State Attorney’s Office didn’t charge the cop for any wrongdoing.

However, according to Sgt. Ron McCracken of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department in California, the local K-9 vehicles feature gadgets called “Chilly Dogs.” The “Chilly Dogs” device warns the handlers if the car gets too hot. And if the vehicle malfunctions or shuts down, the sirens and lights activate, the windows open all the way, and the duty belt on the handler emits a beep. 

At first glance, some residents might think that cops leaving a patrol vehicle running all the time is a waste of taxpayer money and gas. However, there are good reasons to let a police car idle. This includes keeping essential equipment powered up, protecting equipment from extreme temperatures, and ensuring that the vehicle is kept cool in hot weather for K-9 dogs.