Know Your Cop

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Traffic cops are becoming ever more dangerous to our wallets – and all-too-often, our persons. Since we can’t properly defend ourselves against their depredations, avoidance is therefore becoming all the more important. If you see them before they see you, you stand a good chance of not having to interact with them at all.

Unfortunately, cops have become harder to spot. Because they no longer restrict themselves to the stereotypical cop car – the Ford Crown Vic. These are no longer being produced – and so are being replaced by cars that blend into the background better than the big Ford. Cops are also driving more unmarked cars – and even marked cars are harder to pick out before it’s too late because of their low-profile light bars and paint schemes designed specifically to make them less obviously cop cars.

But, not all the news is bad news.

First, most cars out there are not cop cars – and many of them you can write off with near 100 percent certainty as not being occupied by someone out to Harass & Collect:

Coupes are rarely cop cars

In the past, cops have used two-door cars for traffic work – in particular, as “pursuit” cars. Examples include the 1980s-era Ford Mustang LX and (more recently) the 1994-2002 Chevy Camaro. However, these models have been out of service for years – decades, in the case of the old 5.0 LX Mustang. While it’s possible some departments may be using newer models such as the Pontiac GTO (there was at least one of these running around SW Virginia circa 2008) it is very unlikely.

Imports are almost never cop cars

American traffic enforcement is overwhelmingly “buy American” minded. There have been exceptions here and there (at one time, the Falls Church, VA cops were using Volvos) but the rule is – cops cars areAmerican cars. Part of this is patriotic glad-handing (it looks bad when American cops are driving “foreign” cars); part of it is practical politicking (government fleet buyers incline toward the home team brands for the favor-currying it involves) and part of it is due to the fact that – for the most part – the import car companies do not make cars suitable for cop duty. Historically, cops have preferred large, RWD-based vehicles – models like the Ford Crown Victoria. That’s still mostly true today.

High-end luxury/performance cars are never cops cars

Maybe on Miami Vice – but even then, Sonny’s Ferrari was not used for traffic enforcement. Out in the real world, cops may use luxury vehicles seized via asset forfeiture proceedings – but for undercover and other purposes, not for issuing pieces of payin’ paper. The guy in the M5 sitting next to you at the red light, revving his engine, is looking to race – not write you up.

Cars older than 10 years are virtually never cop cars

I won’t say never, because there are probably some rural departments that hang onto their cruisers that long – or even longer. (There was – and still may be – a company that refurbishes worn-out Chevy Impalas – the older, full-size/RWD ones that look like Shamu the Whale – and the more recent Ford Crown Vic.) But – as a general rule – most cop cars get retired long before they reach double-digit age. Many are run almost continuously, seven days a week, year round. It is not unusual for a cop car to see 100,000 miles in less than three years. Which is why it’s unusual to find one still in service after ten. For the most part, you can breathe easy if it’s older – even if it’s a model (like the Vic) that is popular with cops.

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