The Truth About Cars » David Hester The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » David Hester Cop Commandeers Surveillance Vehicle: 2006 Honda Odyssey EX Wed, 14 Aug 2013 11:30:47 +0000 2006 Honda Odyssey Picture by Dave Hester


Moonlighting is as much a part of the job as donuts and Crown Victorias.  As municipal budgets have gotten squeezed over the past few years, the overtime honey holes that I and many of my fellow officers  had become accustomed to shrunk as well. In order to make my nut I’ve had to go back to hustling off- duty gigs. My neighbor runs his own security company on the side and had a detail for this weekend. The catch was that it was outside of my sworn jurisdiction, which meant that I’d have to use one of my own cars instead of the city’s Crown Vic. My options were my ’02 Camaro SS, my ’01 Silverado, or the wife’s ’06 Honda Odyssey. I decided to channel my inner Roger Murtaugh and commandeered the family truckster.

Anonymity in Beige -Turn off the parking lots and the van blends right into the building.

Anonymity in Beige -Turn off the parking lots and the van blends right into the building.

The gig was fairly routine in this day and age. A company located just north of Lexington had to fire an employee, who had taken the news less than well. Threats were made, vengeance was sworn, and management made the decision that the employee was just odd enough that his ravings needed to be addressed. The fact that a somewhat underreported workplace violence trial began this past week no doubt figured into their decision.  They contacted a nationally known company, which then subcontracted the work to my neighbor, who hired me to observe and report for $30 an hour from 2130 hours on Sunday evening to 0800 on Monday.  With no arrest authority, my role was no different from that of any civilian security guard. If the subject showed up, I was to tell him he was trespassing and call the local PD. I was only to apply force in self- defense or to prevent injury to other employees.

Deep dashboard provides excellent place to rest your backup Glock when your ankle starts to itch.

Deep dashboard provides excellent place to rest  a backup Glock when your ankle starts to itch six hours into a ten hour job.

The plan was for me to sit outside in my car and watch the road leading into the facility. If the subject pulled into the lot, I would intercept him and direct him to leave. August in Kentucky makes air conditioning mandatory, even at night. I selected the Odyssey primarily because it gets the best gas mileage of any of my personal cars, the better to protect my profit margins for the gig.

It’s also the most comfortable for an overnight shift of staring at a mostly empty parking lot and waiting (hopefully) in vain for a disgruntled moody loner with homicidal tendencies to show up.  The high sitting position and minimal blind spots give me a decent view of the area from either the front driver’s seat or the second row captain’s chairs.  I spend the first couple of hours in the driver’s seat, backed into the rear corner of an auxiliary parking lot across from the plant. With five cupholders in reach of the driver’s seat my Mountain Dew was always convenient. The door lid of the central cubbyhole makes an excellent shelf when opened to rest my Kindle Fire on. (I bring it on these jobs to watch law enforcement training videos like “Pulp Fiction.” Multitasking, you understand.)

SAM_2147 Picture by Dave Hester

The seating is comfortable enough, although after a while I find the Odyssey’s surprisingly aggressive seat bolstering presses in on the hard plastic of the holster holding my Glock to my hip. I dig into my backpack for a leather holster that tucks inside the waistband of my cargo pants and switch out. Problem solved.

Every hour or so I drive the perimeter of the facility. Securing the place with only one person on the outside is not a serious attempt at security. The back of the plant is wide open, with loading bays off of the factory floor. The suspect could have gone inside from the rear and killed everyone inside. I’d never know.

Still, the Honda works well for the detail. Nobody pays it the slightest bit of attention as I roll between empty trailers and through the lot, checking the rows of employee cars for either of the two vehicles the suspect might be in, described as either a Chevy Colorado or mid- eighties Volvo. If life was an episode of “Magnum, P.I.,” I suppose I would end up in pursuit of him through the hills and dales, maybe through the interior of some of the nearby warehouses.  I figure the Odyssey would probably hold its own against either of those two vehicles.

Magnum's Ferrari has less floorspace available for coolers and Robert Parker novels.

Magnum’s Ferrari has less floorspace available for coolers and Robert Parker novels.

After every loop I return to my darkened corner of the auxiliary lot and back into a space. As the night drags on, I decide to get a sense of the surveillance capabilities from the back of the van. The rear privacy shades on the center widows make the interior almost impenetrable from the outside. I’ve no sooner settled into the leftside captain’s chair when I get my only looky- loo of the night. A Jaguar leaving the employee lot pulls up perpendicular to me. I sit quietly, waiting for the driver to get out and approach. He or she looks for awhile and then drives away . After they leave, I get out and shine my police issue flashlight at the blacked out windows. The privacy screens, combined with the factory tint, really are impenetrable from the outside, even when you walk directly up on them.

Privacy Screens Picture by Dave Hester

As dawn begins to break traffic entering the facility picks up. A madman intent on mayhem would be impossible to stop before he caused a lot of chaos. My relief arrives early and I start the most dangerous part of my shift, the 40- mile drive home after working all night. I stop and top off the tank.  My profligacy in running the A/C most of the night has cost me $29.56 in low- grade unleaded. My other cars would have no doubt cost me more. I tuck the Odyssey into the garage and stumble off to bed. Sooner or later another moonlighting gig will come up. Minivans might be boring, but that’s definitely an asset for surveillance work.

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Some Kind of Skid Monster Sat, 03 Aug 2013 18:35:29 +0000 Green Skid Monster Camry

The vehicle pictured above is called the “Skid Monster.” It’s late model Toyota Camry with casters attached to the rear that cause the car to handle the way you’d expect a Toyota Camry with casters instead of wheels to handle. Larry S. Roberts, the duly elected Fayette County Attorney in Lexington, KY, would like to teach your children how to tame it.

The state of driver’s education in this country is generally considered to be abysmal. One by one school districts across the country have dropped driver’s ed from their curriculums, sacrificed along with the majority of vo- tech classes on the altar of common core standards, No Child Left Behind, and efforts to “teach to the test.” Lexington hasn’t had driver’s ed in the public schools in decades. The cost of private instruction can be prohibitive. Kentucky Driving School, which operates out of the Louisville area, charges $65 an hour for instruction to teach the basics of automotive operation. Small wonder, then, that most parents opt to do it themselves. Whether or not they are good drivers themselves doesn’t much matter.

Larry Roberts has been the Fayette County Attorney, which makes him the chief prosecutor in the lower District Courts, since 2006. The idea for the Fayette County Attorney Driver Education Program was hatched in 2010 and the first class was in 2011. Over 350 students have made it through the program so far.

Temporary building currently houses the program. Funding for a permanent building is being sought.
Temporary building currently houses the program. Funding for a permanent building is being sought.

Talk to Larry about the program for a few minutes and it becomes pretty clear that this is a true labor of love for him and not just a feel- good public relations stunt to get him through the next election. A lot of thought has gone into the program, particularly with an eye towards keeping it viable after he leaves office. The biggest component of that vision is how the program is funded. Unlike most training programs sponsored by a government agency, this program runs primarily on private as opposed to public dollars. In the brave, new world of fiscal responsibility forced on all levels of government by the 2008 economic meltdown dedicated funding streams of tax dollars for new initiatives are all but impossible to get and grants from the Federal or state governments dry up almost as soon as they are given. A 501(c) 3 non- profit was set up in order to maximize charitable donations to fund the project.

Group of students practicing basic car control while awaiting the skid monster. Corporate sponsorship makes the program work.
Group of students practicing basic car control on the edge of the pad while awaiting the skid monster. Corporate sponsorship makes the program work.

The cars are donated by the area’s largest Toyota dealer. The wiring for the doublewide portable classroom that currently houses the project was donated by a local contractor. An asphalt driving pad owned by the city of Lexington was used early on, but numerous scheduling conflicts with various city agencies made it a hassle. A new dedicated pad was built  next to the old pad using donated material and labor. Straight corporate sponsorships of cash are accepted as well, with insurance giant State Farm being one of the largest contributors.

So what is the program and what makes it different from the public school driver’s ed classes of old? First of all, it is not a basic driver’s course. Your kid won’t be taught how to parallel park or make a 3- point turn. Participants are required to have either their driver’s license or their learner’s permit coupled with a minimum of 20 hours of driving instruction logged into their Kentucky Driving Manual. A minimum amount of driving experience is necessary because as Billy Fryer, the chief instructor, put it to me “If you put a kid who’s never driven a car behind the wheel of the skid monster and yanked it out from under him, he’d never drive again.”

The fundamental flaw in driver’s education as it is normally done, either by parents or professional instructors, is that it can’t really teach a kid what to do when control is lost. You can tell a novice driver that he should “turn the steering wheel in the direction that the back of the vehicle is skidding,” as the Kentucky Driving Manual advises. Until someone actually feels the rear wheels start to come around in an attempt to meet their front counterparts, it’s all just words on a page.

Instructor Brett Goode goes over homework from the previous evening before the class adjourns to the pad.
Instructor Brett Goode goes over homework from the previous evening before the class adjourns to the pad.

In order to learn, the kids need to drive. And drive they do. The course is 20 hours, spread out in four-hour blocks over five days. About 5 hours are spent in the classroom. The rest of the time, the kids are divided up into groups of three spread out into the skid monster and two regular cars in which they practice basic vehicle control while awaiting their turn in the barrel. Class size is limited to nine participants in order to help maximize the amount of time behind the wheel for each student.

The skid monster is clearly the star of the show. It’s operation is fiendishly simple. The student starts off gently in a straight line. Gentle inputs from the steering wheel will turn the car without drama. The instructor, seated in the front passenger seat, simply reaches over and gives the wheel a solid yank, which causes the rear end to step out. Panic braking or wild swings of the wheel in an effort to counter steer by the novice driver make it worse. However, with practice they learn how to control the skid by only dialing in the amount of steering they need to in order to pull out. As the week progresses, they learn how to handle the movement in curves and while avoiding obstacles. By the end of the course they are able to run a slalom in the skid monster.

Green Skid Monster Camry 2

On public roads there’s no way to allow a novice to learn by doing when it comes to skid recovery. What’s needed is a 5 acre asphalt pad built on top of a landfill, with plenty of empty space on three sides of it for a teenager to spin a Camry into the weeds. (The fourth side is occupied by metal bleachers, but they sit empty until graduation on the last day of the five-day course. Hopefully, the kids have all mastered the skid monster before their loved ones are quite literally placed in the line of fire.)

In addition to the 20 hours of instruction time, there’s an additional 9- 10 hours of homework over the course of the week. On the third day much of the classroom time is spent on texting while driving. The kids take their phones and try to text one another while operating a driving simulator. The course starts off at low speeds and in light traffic, but the instructors dial up the speed and obstacles as the kids continue to try to text. As with the skid monster the point is to show the kids why texting and driving isn’t compatible instead of just talking about it.

Cost of the program is a mere $200 per pupil, ridiculously cheap compared to other driving schools. Reliance on charitable contributions for the vast majority of the operating budget and the fact that the school is not for profit keeps that cost down, but Roberts feels that the participants (or, rather, their parents) should pay something to have skin in the game. Most of the kids start the program somewhat sullen and grumpy at having to take the course, particularly during the summer, but they get interested quickly and remain so through the course. So far only one participant has had to be dismissed. The program is limited to Kentucky residents, but is open to student drivers from outside of Fayette County at the same rate as Fayette County residents.

The immediate future of the program is bright, but the long-term future of the program is murky. As long as Mr. Roberts remains in his position the program will have in advocate. His long-term goal would be to have the public school system take it over. On the one hand the powers that be in the school system have expressed interest and tentative plans for a new high school include a driving pad.

On the other hand, the schools haven’t been particularly interested in adopting what parts of the program they could today. During the winter months, when early darkness prohibits the use of the skid pad, Billy Fryer has tried with little success to bring the simulators into the schools in order to let more kids experience the texting while driving portion of the course. The cost is free and all he asks of the schools is a place to put the simulators and help scheduling the kids to participate in groups of 14 at a time. He’s had very few takers.

Hopefully someone will pick p the torch after Mr. Roberts leaves office. For now there’s a very reasonably priced program that will actually teach a young driver how to control a car in an emergency situation that’s begging to be adopted, copied, and stolen for the benefit of novice drivers across the country. It’s a program my kid will be enrolled in when she gets her permit in a couple of years and I encourage others to do the same.

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I’m Here to Say, I Was Drivin’ that Model A: The 2013 Ford Model A Restorers’ Club National Meet Sat, 29 Jun 2013 14:28:39 +0000 Tan Brown Model A Coupe Picture by Dave Hester

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the introduction of the Ford Model A. During the week of June 24th, over 800 of them descended on Lexington for the 2013 Model A Restorer’s Club (MARC) national meeting. Despite numerous storms that rolled through Central KY during the week, spirits were high and your humble author, a Chevrolet man through and through, learned a thing or two about the car that replaced the Model T.

Ford Model A Lexington 2013 Photo courtesy of Dave Hester

MARC was founded in 1952 in response to prejudice. In the early ’50s a Model A was just a used car. The organization’s chief founder, William Hall, started the club after being snubbed at an antique car meet where Model As weren’t allowed to park with the classics.

Green Model A Coupe Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

No one would deny a Model A owner the right to park front and center at a local cruise- in today, but there’s still a little bit of a chip on the shoulders of Model A enthusiasts. I mean that in a good way. The whole vibe of the event was one of blue-collar self-reliance and an overall feeling that if a blue- blooded automobile aficionado (as opposed to a simple “car guy” or “gal”) were to wander into the proceedings with high- falutin notions about 100- point level concours restorations and start bossing people around, that he or she would quickly be invited to commit an anatomically impossible act of sexual congress.

Not that any of the MARC members would put it in terms so blunt or insulting. And not that MARC doesn’t have any standards. There were no hot rods. MARC is for original (or original-ish) Model As. The popularity of the Model A for hot rodding enthusiasts over the decades has decimated the supply of “regular” cars.

Grey Black Pickup Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

There was still judging and inspecting to be had, for those that consider such things an amusement. There were flawless trailer queens that would satisfy the effete sensibilities of any blue- blooded aficionado, but there were as many and more drivers parked next to them in the parking lot across from the Lexington Hyatt.

Model A with map Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

It was hard to get even a semi- accurate count on the ratio of queens to drivers because even the queens were being driven. Sure, they’d been trailered to Lexington, but once the convention started they were being used to commute all over town.  One of the many wonderful things I learned in the short time I spent interviewing MARC members is that getting out and driving your Model A is expected. Touring is part of the appeal and being willing to drive a car  eight decades old hundreds of miles is considered normal, not nuts.

Chuck Brown Model A Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

Chuck and Harold, two MARC members from Ohio, were typical. Both of them had driven their Model As down. Chuck, who served as my Virgil and was willing to answer a lot of my stupid questions, had a brown 1930 Coupe. He’d owned it for four years and had kept it close to stock, even continuing to make do with the 6- volt electrical system instead of upgrading to 12- volt like many of his fellows. His car, which he’d paid $8,000 for, was in great shape, but not so great that he was afraid to enjoy it.

Harold worktruck Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

Harold’s pickup truck, a blue 1931 model,  was more worn because it had been much more used. A little battered and beat, with knobby blackwall tires that were half again as wide as the vintage tires on most of the trailer queens and a rubber bed mat the truck had been from Boston to San Diego over the years, but Harold had also used it as a farm truck for years before placing it into semi- retirement.

In order to get that much use out of an antique car a certain amount of leeway when it comes to keeping your Model A “stock” is to be expected. Walking up and down the rows of Model As I observed acknowledgement of reality: If an owner want to keep driving his old car and enjoying it to the fullest, he took full advantage of advances in technology.

It’s the simple things that you notice. A wire framed cup holder accessory that mounted to the dash was one of the most popular. The cars that had been converted to 12- volt electrical systems were easy to spot by the modern GPS units mounted to their windshields and plugged into jerry- rigged outlets.

Model A CHMSL Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

Concessions to safety, particularly the installation of center high- mounted stop lights in the rear windows, were also in abundance as were more CB radios than could be found in the parking lot at C.W. McCall concert. Most of the cars were still being stopped by drum brakes all around, although there were a few front disc conversions mixed in.

Not that there is really much you can do to improve the safety rating on an eighty year- old car. Some had lap belts installed, but with a fuel tank mounted right on the other side of a wafer thin dash, almost as many had fire extinguishers handy.

Model A with seat belts Picture by Dave Hester

The bigger threat that I could see to the Model As on display was time. Not for the damage that time could do to the cars. Anything damaged or destroyed by rust could be replaced, although I suppose at some point the owner would end up driving the automotive equivalent of George Washington’s hatchet. Time was doing a number on the enthusiasts themselves.

It’s been pointed out on this website before that automobile collecting is definitely an older person’s game. You need time and money to fiddle with old cars, neither of which is a luxury that a young person can afford. Attend any car show and the demographics always skew towards AARP membership instead of nursery school.

Black Red Model A Picture by Dave Hester

The MARC participants were still wrecking the curve. Other than a couple of younger guys who had trailered a car down for a friend, I didn’t see a single person under the age of sixty during the first four days I haunted the parking lot where the cars were parked.  Okay, maybe I’m taking a little bit of artistic license, but there were definitely no young families with kids that I could see. As I talked to the participants I thought I began to understand why.

I’m never been much of an antique car fan. I can regurgitate obscure facts about postwar classic cars, particularly GM iron from the ’50s and ’60s, all day long, but my knowledge of stuff from the nineteen aughts, ‘teens, and Roaring ’20s is severely lacking. I can pick out the highend stuff, like a Duesenberg, at fifty paces and I can recognize a Model T. But frankly the mid range Fords, Chevrolets, Buicks, Dodges, and other mainline cars all look alike to a member of Generation X. We (and the Millennials) are the ones with kids and we don’t get cars this old.

Green Model A Picture by Dave Hester

It’s because we don’t really have any personal connection to them. My grandfather’s first car was a 1929 Model A, a Coupe model with a rumble seat that he purchased new and eventually turned into a pickup truck. I don’t remember that car because it was sold in 1949 and replaced with a  dark green Chevrolet pickup before my father was born.

I remember the Chevrolet because it was given to Dad when Grandpa bought another new Chevrolet  in ’73. I can remember riding in it and through those memories I have a connection to cars of the ’40s and ’50s. I understand what motoring in that era meant because I experienced it dozens of times as a child.

I also have a  direct connection to cars of the ’60s and ’70s as well through my father. His first car was ’67 Mustang, so Dad was always pointing out early Mustangs and teaching me how to quickly identify the different years by looking at the shape (or lack) of the chrome trim behind the door.  The Mustang was traded for a ’73 Mercury Capri that I can also remember riding in. Beyond that, in 1989, my father purchased a ’69 Camaro, which he and I restored and which was eventually passed to me for a short while.

Black Model A Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

I also had it in my head that pre- war cars were fragile, delicate things. Their skinny wheels, thin fenders, and paper-thin bodywork project weakness to me, compared to models from the ’40s and ’50s with their bulbous fenders, long hoods, and trunks big enough to hold two to four dead gangsters depending on how you fold them.

If I had thought about it for half a second I would have known better. Given the comparatively sorry state of roads in the United States in the first third of the 20th century, those old cars were built pretty tough. The number of Model As at the MARC convention that had been driven there under their own power were a testament to that.

Blue Red Model A Picture by Dave Hester

The people keeping the Model A flame alive view the cars differently because, by and large, they are old enough to have seen and experienced the cars being used as more than “historic vehicles.” A septuagenarian I met named Duane had trailered his green with yellow trim 1931 pickup down from Illinois and admitted as we talked that he had abandoned FoMoCo for his daily drivers decades earlier after a bad experience with a Mercury. But he had learned to drive on a Model A pickup truck, and the one he was proudly showing around town was his second Model A truck of the same vintage of the one he’d first turned a wheel in as a boy.

Duane Green Truck Picture by David Hester

It’s that connection with the past that enthusiasts of my generation don’t have with cars as old as the Model A. You can only connect so much with something you don’t have a personal frame of reference to, particularly with a car like the Model A that doesn’t have a clear line of succession to a modern model the way a ’67 Mustang does.

With my story about the Model A about 85% written, I headed over to the parking lot one last time on Friday morning to take a few more pictures as the MARC participants were heading home. I had planned to close this piece on a downbeat with a nod to Brendan’s excellent piece from Tuesday about “Forever Cars.” I was going to make some sort of half- assed argument that the problem wasn’t that aren’t any “Forever Cars;” the problem is that there aren’t any “Forever People.”

There was only one Model A fixed up as a police car in attendance at the convention. I’d taken about a dozen pictures of it over the week, but I’d never run into the owner. As I rolled down the back row one last time, I finally did.

Model A Police Car Picture by Dave Hester

Mike was about my age and was loading up the car with his wife and two kids to drive 800 miles back to Kansas. He and his family had convoyed down with an older couple for the convention and they were headed back the same way. It would take them about three days. He’d owned the car for about a year and was still learning about its eccentricities. He admitted that the older enthusiasts knew a lot more about the cars than he did and could diagnose problems a lot quicker.

As Mike showed off the lights and sirens on his car for me, I realized that I was going to have to change a lot of what I’d written piecemeal over the previous two days. I’m perfectly okay with that. Happy endings are always better. Maybe Mike and his family are the exceptions that prove the rule when it comes to the aging of the Model A enthusiast base, but I choose to believe that they represent hope that there will always be a group of people shepherding Model As along our roads for the next 85 years.

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Dude, Where’s My ObamaCar? Tue, 25 Jun 2013 14:17:30 +0000 sanders_s640x427 Picture courtesy of

So, how would you all like a nice, juicy chunk of political red meat to chew on a lovely Tuesday morning? For those of you who aren’t interested, it’s all below the jump. For the rest of you, 350 comments or bust! Let’s do this…

Yesterday the Senate voted for cloture on what has been commonly described as The Immigration Bill but is technically known as Senate Bill 744. In order to make the bill palatable to a bipartisan supermajority of the Senate an amendment, known as the Corker- Hoeven amendment after it’s two Republican sponsors, was added late last week.

The primary focus of the amendment was to strengthen security at the border before legalization (or amnesty, if you prefer) for undocumented aliens could begin. Depending on which group of talking heads and/ or political hacks you want to believe, the border surge will either be a bulwark never failing against the rising tide of third- world misery threatening to engulf the Southwest or a completely hollow piece of garbage meant to give Republicans a fig leaf of “tough on illegal immigration” talking points to use as a Jedi mindtrick on the rubes back home that elected them.

So, what does all this have to do with cars? I’m getting there. As with all most legislation at the Federal all levels of government, it contains a lot of bribes vitally important funding necessary for the survival of the Republic.  A brief (and admittedly partisan) breakdown of some of the bribes can be found here.

One of the Senators who needed some vital funding necessary for the survival of the Republic thrown his way before he could vote in good conscience for cloture was Senator Bernie Sanders (I- VT). His vital funding is found in Title V of the amendment under the heading  ”Jobs For Youth” and the text of it begins on page 1169 of the Corker- Hoeven Amendment. Basically it’s a $1.5 billion a year jobs program for underprivileged youths, tacked onto the bill as an admission that flooding the labor market with millions of unskilled and low- skilled immigrants willing to work 90 hours a week for wages barely above subsistence level will make it hard for native- born unskilled and low- skilled young people who demand a 40 hour workweek and minimum wage to get a job.

What’s causing consternation on the right side of our political aisle is a provision in Bernie’s Bribe that the funds can be used to “to provide summer employment opportunities for low-income youth, with direct linkages to academic and occupational learning, and may be used to provide supportive services, such as transportation or child care, that is necessary to enable the participation of such youth in the opportunities.”  That highlighted line is being translated as authority for states that receive this money to use it to buy or lease cars for poor kids.  Expect that to become a meme among the right over the next 24- hour news cycle leading up to the vote on the final bill.

As much as I enjoy beating up on the government (From the inside, no less!) and as wasteful as I may think Bernie’s Bribe is, the idea that the government is going to provide cars to underprivileged youths is nonsense on stilts. Even a hardcore Socialist like Bernie Sanders knows that people on either side of the aisle won’t tolerate buying individual people new cars, even if they were Priuses. Conservatives would be against it just because we’re mean, but liberals will be against it because providing an individual with his own car is anathema to the overwhelming desire to shoehorn individuals into public transportation.

“Supportive transportation services” is government-ese for “bus passes and subway tokens.” At worst, it’s authority for a state agency to buy a van and hire somebody to pick up underprivileged youths and take them to job training.  As we watch the news cycle over the next couple of days, keep that in mind. There are plenty of good arguments to be made for and against the immigration bill as it gets voted out of the Senate and sent to die in the House of Representatives. There’s no need to resort to fairy tales of an ObamaCar in every driveway to be followed by ObamaJacuzzis on every back deck and ObamaBigScreens in every living room.

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Cop Won’t Drive Cop Car Part 2: So, Hoosier Daddy, Carbon Motors? Tue, 18 Jun 2013 11:30:41 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

If the Carbon Motors business model was so bad, how did the company last as long as it did? To paraphrase an especially sharp-tongued commentor from one of the many Carbon E7 threads I’ve followed on the web over the years, the company’s business plan seemed to revolve around borrowing money from the government to build cars that they would then sell exclusively to the government. Only the government would be dumb enough to fall for such a scheme and the government of Indiana apparently did.

But did they do so out of malice or out of a desperate attempt to kick-start the economy in a depressed region of the state? Once known as “little Detroit,” Connersville was a Ford factory town up until the joint Ford/ Visteon plant closed in  2007.  890 jobs went directly down the drain and city leaders were left wondering what to do in response to keep the town afloat.

Into the void stepped Carbon Motors, which was looking for a place to build its super police cruiser and promising up to 1,500 jobs. The Visteon plant was available, but as a start-up company with no cash, Carbon couldn’t buy it. They needed Connersville (which was just one of several desperate towns looking for someone, anyone, to employ some of their unemployed citizens) and the state of Indiana to make it worth their while.

The first step was for Connersville to buy the plant, which the city was able to do for the low, low price of $500 plus an agreement to take responsibility to the tune of an additional $4 million to clean the site up.  In order to do that, Connersville had to borrow $3.5 million dollars with the remaining $500,000 coming from realocated money in a state environmental trust fund. If Carbon Motors been able to secure the DOE loan, or an equal amount of funding from other sources, Connersville would have straight up given them the plant.

So Connersville was ready to play, but the state of Indiana had to kick in as well. It did so in two ways. The first was a $5 million grant through a regional development fund paid for by the sucker tax riverboat casino gambling in Lawrenceburg, IN, which is about 15 minutes down I-275 from Cincinnati. The second was a $2 million grant from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which is the state’s primary economic development agency.

That $2 million figure from the IEDC doesn’t include $16 million in tax breaks that were to be granted to Carbon Motors over ten years. The cost to state coffers per job would have been a little over $10,000. That was higher than the average cost per job of approximately $8,700 in similar arrangements with other employers and the IEDC.

This is as good a place as any to take a moment and direct you to an investigative report by the Indianapolis Star first published on May 20. It’s a rather long piece but it paints a very thorough and detailed picture of the problems that arise when government looks to spend money picking winners in the marketplace. The article details not only the Carbon Motors fiasco, but also how money has been blown on any number of projects that often directly benefited the elected officials who championed them. Take 30 minutes and read the whole thing.

What becomes apparent as you read the article is that overt corruption that rises to the level of a criminal offense is hard to prove. Still, there’s an awful lot of smoke and the whole project ends up being tainted, especially since the whole thing was such a, well, dumb idea to begin with.

For example, how did Connersville end up in the running to land Carbon in the first place? Well, Indiana’s governor at the time was Republican Mitch Daniels who happened to have served in the George W. Bush administration with former director of Homeland Security and Carbon Motors board member Tom Ridge. People who work together in one capacity often work together on other projects. It’s to be expected and it’s (usually) not illegal. And yet when you consider the breaks that Carbon got that others didn’t, such as the amount in tax breaks referenced above,  it’s hard to not be cynical.

So what happened to the money? Most of it was ostensibly spent on legitimate projects like R&D and work on refurbishing the Connersville plant. BMW got $1.8 million towards powertrains that it no longer has to deliver. But there were also a lot of questionable expenditures. Over $200,000 went towards executive salaries, which was apparently allowed even though other similar grants had prohibited such practices, which raises yet again the question of why did the company on which the governor’s former administration mate sits on the board get to do something that other companies would have been forbidden to do?

Another $214,000 went for “travel expenses.” And, as you might expect, much of the travel was to luxury resorts and at least two five- figure expenditures weren’t itemized. Again, the actions aren’t illegal, but their appearance is less than ethical.

Then there’s the miniscule expense of $11,500 that went to a Mr. David Jobe for his services as a “contract employee.” The problem is that Mr. Jobe was a Connersville city councilman at the time and appears to have voted on several items of business related to Carbon’s relationship with the town.

In response to the light shown on these expenditures by the Indy Star, all of the government entities involved resorted to the “O.D.D.I.” ( The Other Dude Did It) defense to avoid to deny responsibility for what appears to be almost the complete lack of oversight of tax payer funds when it came to Carbon Motors.  Connersville claimed that oversight was supposed to happen at the state level.  The IEDC claimed that officials in Connersville made final approval for payments. In the end, $7 million dollars was flushed down the Carbon Motors rathole and the government entities involved don’t appear to be terribly embarrassed about it. As Connersville Mayor Leonard Urban was quoted by the Indianapolis Star: “That was gambling money and this was a gamble.”

But that’s the government and the government can almost always be expected to make crap economic decisions based on politics and nepotism instead of common sense regardless of which political party is in charge at the time. What about Carbon Motors practices in general? How shady was the private half of this public- private partnership?

In order to examine that I’m going to focus on one piece of the entire Carbon Motors saga, one single claim that I always suspected to be a pretty naked falsehood: the number of “orders” for a prototype police car that Carbon claimed to have received.

By 2009 it was being reported that Carbon was claiming that they had received 10,000 pre- orders for a car that they hadn’t even officially priced yet.  By the end of 2012 they claimed to have had over 24,000 orders for the E7 and announced that they would be taking orders for their proposed police supertruck called the TX7.  Anyone with even a passing knowledge of how government budgeting works knows that couldn’t possibly have been true. State and local governments, Carbon’s customer base, decide year to year how many police cars they are going to buy and then place the orders for a specific number of cars. They have to have the money, either in actual revenue or in the proceeds from bond sales, in hand when they place the order. The idea that government entities were actually committing tax payer dollars to a car that didn’t exist is ridiculous.

And, in fairness to Carbon, if you carefully peruse their materials and press releases at the time, they spoke only of “reservations” in printed materials. Agencies weren’t ordering cars. They were filling out an on-line form on Carbon’s website that really only expressed interest in the concept. There was no actual commitment to buy. There was no real way to know if the person filling out the form, allegedly for a law enforcement agency, really had any authority to make purchasing decisions anyway.

The problem is that the mainstream and automotive press called these “reservations,” which they really weren’t, “orders,” which implied to the casual reader that money was actually being put down and agencies were actually expecting to receive cars.  I can find no record of Carbon Motors trying to correct this perception.

So, like the behind the scenes machinations by government officials to land the plant and ditch the rulebook governing the disbursement of taxpayer dollars to Carbon’s benefit, is Carbon Motor’s failure to correct a misperception that benefitted them proof of illegal behavior? Not really. It raises the question of ethics.

In the wake of Carbon’s demise residents of Connersville took to the local internet gossip site, which has become the 21st century version of a party- line telephone to many rural communities, to vent about  both Carbon officials and their local potentates. Reading through the threads, it’s hard to tell who they despise more: Carbon CEO William Santana Li or Mayor Leonard Urban. Rumors swirl and accusations fly, but proof of any actual wrong doing will be hard to come by.  Perhaps the bankruptcy proceedings, as well as a lawsuit filed by three former Carbon VPs, will provide definitive answers somewhere down the line.



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Cop Won’t Drive Cop Car: Carbon Motors Declares Bankruptcy Fri, 14 Jun 2013 16:26:51 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

The video above is the closest we’ll ever have to enjoying a World’s Wildest Police Chases segment featuring the Carbon Motors E7. Somewhat lost in the breaking news of March regarding the bankruptcy of Fisker Automotive and Coda was the demise of the nation’s other other startup vehicle manufacturer, the Carbon Motors Corporation. Although Bertel correctly predicted Carbon’s death shortly after they failed to qualify for a DOE loan last year, the company maintained a brave public face and soldiered on defiantly until the end of March. As late as mid March they were announcing the introduction of two new vehicles: an armored truck called the TX 7 and a skateboard shaped drone called the CT 7.  Two weeks later they would be slipping out of their Indiana state taxpayer funded digs  without so much as a “Dear John” letter to the desperate Hoosiers who needed the jobs they’d promised

I’d been watching and waiting for an official announcement that the company had liqudated before poking the body with a stick. That moment finally came on June 7 with a Chapter 7 filing in Indianapolis. The bankruptcy filing shows that Carbon Motors had assets of less than $19,000 and outstanding liabilities of over $21 million. It seems that the dream of a purpose-built police car is dead.

In the post-mortem analysis, there are three questions that I think need to be answered. The first, which this piece will attempt to address is “Was there really ever a market for a dedicated police vehicle?” The second question is “Was Carbon Motors all just a big scam to suck at the government teat?” The third question is “Did the Big 3 learn anything from Carbon Motors that will benefit police and emergency vehicles in the future?’ Those opinion pieces will be forthcoming, but for now I just want to focus on the first question of whether it was ever a good idea.

To narrow the scope of this piece even further, I’m also going to limit my analysis to the fiscal case against Carbon Motors. There were other bad ideas, such as using a BMW powertrain combo that would be difficult to get serviced in wide swaths of flyover America, but I believe what would have really killed the Carbon E7 was it’s projected cost. Yes, I know many of you will laugh when I say that fiscal austerity matters to government, but the truth is that at the state and local level it does. State, county, and local governments buy the vast majority of patrol cars, not the Federal government. Unlike the Feds, they can’t print money.

The E7 concept struck me as the answer to a question that nobody asked. While readers will no doubt recall my documentation of and endless bitching about the shortcomings of the Ford Police Interceptor Sedan and the Dodge Charger, I just didn’t see the need for a dedicated patrol vehicle, particularly for one at the price point that the Carbon E7 was rumored to cost. The price point was a moving target and never officially disclosed by Carbon. Their representatives were always cagey, claiming that their car would come straight from the factory at a price that was “competitive” to a “completely equipped” patrol car.

“Completely equipped” in Carbon’s viewpoint meant a car loaded down with every crime fighting tool and toy ever invented, from the necessary and mundane stuff like lights and a siren to the fantastic yet probably not necessary such as their biological and chemical agent detectors. The first estimate that I can remember hearing was $70,000. A search of articles about the E7 archived through the Wayback Machine gave me estimates ranging from $50K in a 2009 article to a statement in 2008 by Carbon Motors officials that the average cost of a fully equipped police car was $80,000.

That’s an insane amount of money for a patrol car. I spoke with the technicians at my department’s fleet services unit and asked how much extra it costs to completely outfit a new cruiser. The reply was “About $10,000.” That sounds like a lot of money, but through the magic of the public bid process, it’s actually not. The taxpayers get a lot of stuff for ten large that really is necessary to turn a Taurus with blacked out trim and a cheap interior into a functional patrol unit. The Carbon Motors’ estimate of $80K per completed unit is way off. It raises the question of whether or not you could even spend that much money on a patrol car if you tried, so I did.

Using the fleet pricing information I got when I wrote my article on the Dodge Charger, I started off with a basic V-8 powered RWD Charger Pursuit for $23,585. I added $1,460 worth of factory options (wheel covers, Bluetooth, a few other odds and ends) for a total price of $25,045 for the basic car delivered from Dodge.

I then used retail pricing from Gall’s and other emergency equipment vendors to add everything else I could dream of to a patrol car. Whenever there was a choice in a piece of equipment, I picked the mid- range/ mid- priced option. I “spent” $2,375 on lights, which included a full light bar as well as a UFO’s worth of extra strobes hidden in the foglights, grille, and other places on the car. A mid- level RADAR unit went for $2,300, while a video recording system costs $3,200. A Panasonic Toughbook, which is one of the most popular choices for use as a Mobile Data Computer, was $3,500.

By the time all was said and done I came up with a total of $14,440 worth of additional pieces and parts. Add that to the base price of the car and you get $39,485 for a complete patrol car, less than half of what Carbon Motors claimed a fully equipped patrol car would cost in 2008.

No, a cash strapped police department (and there isn’t any other kind these days) could have two fully equipped patrol cars for $80,000 and that’s only if the person in charge of purchasing was stupid enough to pay retail for everything and the agency insisted on adding every bell and whistle invented to every car. The vast majority of department’s don’t add half of the stuff I added to my dream cruiser and none of them add everything to every car.

Carbon Motors appeared to operate on the theory that police departments do. One of the innovations that Carbon claimed was the establishment of their “Carbon Council,” which did manage to achieve some acclaim as an early example of crowd sourcing. While Carbon’s website makes the “Carbon Council” sound like a highly screened and elite panel of law enforcement experts selected to give valuable input into the police car of the future, in practice the group appears to have served up the law enforcement equivalent of The Car Built For Homer.

As a low-level cog in the Big Blue Machine of an urban police department I’m always more than happy to grumble about the condition of various pieces of my equipment to my fellow low-level cogs, but I don’t want the high level cogs to spend $80,000 on a single super cruiser. One of the (many) hats I wear is that of union goon Grievance Committee Chairperson for Bluegrass Lodge #4 of the Fraternal Order of Police. Our fleet has been neglected over the last couple of budget cycles and we’ve got some pretty ancient Crown Vics on the road. It appears we’re finally going to be getting a decent number of new cars this coming fiscal year. If the powers that be were going to buy only half the number of cars to replace some of our more ragged out units because they wanted to buy Carbon E7s instead of Ford Police Interceptors, I can assure you that the union would throw a very public fit. Municipal financing is a zero sum game.

The fiscal case for Carbon Motors never made sense, which explains why the company was never able to attract private investment. If a simple union goon with an Associate’s Degree in Police Studies gets that, than obviously people who are paid to make and manage money for other people would get it too. The only entity silly enough to invest in Carbon Motors appears to have been the state of Indiana. Part two will examine how that happened.


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Cop Drives Classic Cop Car: 1991 Ford LTD Crown Victoria and 1996 Crown Victoria Mon, 03 Jun 2013 12:00:36 +0000 SAM_1902 Picture by David Hester

Along with the faux cop car 1972 Ford Galaxie Custom 500 that I reviewed a few weeks back, my department has saved two other examples of police cars once used on patrol. I can personally vouch that these two G- rides are the real deal, because they were both in service in 1997 when I started my career.

SAM_1828 Picture by David Hester

First up we have a 1991 Ford LTD Crown Victoria. I’ve never liked the “box” style Panthers. When I was going through the police academy, I had the misfortune to be stuck using one of these when we went through our pursuit and emergency driving training courses. Most of my classmates were lucky enough to have been assigned newer ’92- ’94 Crown Vics. The instructors insisted that there was no difference and that the two different models handled the same.

SAM_1827 edited Picture by David Hester

They lied. Other than being RWD four door sedans that are painted refrigerator white, the two models have nothing in common, particularly when it comes to handling. The design soldiered on basically unchanged from 1979 until 1991. The “boxes” were dinosaurs compared to the “bubbles.” My classmates who were in newer, better handling cars did significantly better on the exercises. I had to come back for retraining… which was done in a newer Crown Vic and I passed easily.

I graduated from the police academy and was assigned to 3rd shift patrol with my first field training officer.  His ride was a ’91 Crown Vic. On my first night, he put me behind the wheel and promptly went to sleep. This was to be the pattern of our time together for much of the next five weeks. I learned how to drive very, very smoothly so as not to wake him.

SAM_1837 Picture by David Hester

Smoothly is the best way to drive a first generation Panther. I have driven them in anger and the only thing worse is to be a passenger in one being driven in anger by someone else because passenger side airbags weren’t an option until the ’92 redesign. I hadn’t driven one at all in well over a decade before taking out P#717 for a spin.

A few weeks ago Murilee Martin asked the Best and Brightest during  which 10 year period they thought automobiles advanced the most. I didn’t participate in the thread, but after driving these two cars back to back (along with the ’72 Ford the same day), I’m convinced that the 1980s saw the most advancement. The ’91 LTD was designed in the mid ’70s and went on sale as a ’79. It passed through the entire decade of the ’80s basically frozen in time.

I was struck by how old- fashioned the car was, with whisper thin A- pillars, offensively fake wood trim, velour upholstery, chrome switchgear, tiny rearview mirrors, and all of the other little details that made the  driving experience of the ’91 model feel closer to that of the ’72 Custom 500 that was 19 years older than to that of the ’96 model that was only 5 years newer.

SAM_1849 Picture by David Hester

The power steering is over- assisted like the steering in the ’72, with the same floating sensation that encourages you to steer with one finger while using the hood ornament as a sort of sight to keep the car between the ditches. As you build up speed, air rushing into the engine compartment through the massive grille makes the edges of the hood start to flutter due to the fact that  the LTD has approximately the same aerodynamic properties as a brick. It serves as a natural speed governor. The faster you go, the more violently the hood shakes until the driver starts to worry that the latch might not keep it from becoming airborne and slows down.

SAM_1856 Picture by David Hester

The ’91 Crown Vics did have a couple of advantages over the redesigned ’92s. The first was their massive chrome bumpers that could actually bump stuff without showing damage the way the painted bumpers of modern cars will. The second one was ground clearance, an advantage I discovered one night my in my first months as a solo patrol officer. Although I was assigned a ’92 model when I finished the field training program, ’89- ’91 models made up the pool car fleet. When my assigned car was down for service, I would have to drive a pool car.

On this particular evening, I decided to drive through a construction area near one of the middle schools in my beat. As part of the school’s renovation the rear parking lot was being expanded. A layer of dirt and gravel had been poured and I decided to drive over it to have a closer look at some of the new construction to the rear of the school.

What I couldn’t see in the dark was that there was a drop of about 9 inches from the edge of the finished parking lot to the gravel. My front wheels dropped off of the end with bone-jarring thud. I had the presence of mind to immediately stop and get out. The oil pan was about an eighth of an inch above the edge of the concrete. If I had been driving my ’92 instead of the older pool car I probably would have been high-centered and unable to move unless I was willing to sacrifice various expensive parts of the undercarriage.  Instead I was able to build a small ramp out of scrap lumber and backed the ’91 up  onto higher ground.


Ultimately, except for their innate ability to take a beating, there is nothing to recommend a ’91 Crown Vic over the ’92- ’97 models. The ’92 and later models feel and drive like modern cars. They’re equipped like modern cars as well, with airbags, ABS, and traction control. The steering isn’t completely numb, although it could use a little more feedback. Drive the ’91 and a later model back to back as I did and the newer car just feels so much more capable.

SAM_1896 Picture by David Hester

’92 and ’93 models came equipped with bench seats, but bucket seats were available for police package models beginning in ’94. The gap available to fit a console between the seats was just over 9 inches wide, a distance that Ford continues to pretend exists between the buckets in a new Ford Police Interceptor Sedan.

SAM_1888 Picture by David Hester

Most of my time as a patrol officer was spent in ’92- ’97 Crown Vics. I was assigned a ’92 (wrecked), a ’95 (wrecked, but not my fault), a ’94 (wrecked), another ’92, another ’94, and a ’96 (See. I got better.) before being entrusted with a brand new 2001 (which was also wrecked, but it also wasn’t my fault.) I managed to walk away from all of my misadventures without injury, something I’m not sure would have been true in one of the old boxes.

SAM_1878 Picture by David Hester

The model pictured here is a ’96, which was the last year that Ford would have any real competition in the police market for nearly a decade. Chevrolet would be dropping the Caprice until the Caprice PPV returned in 2011. Dodge had already given up the market and wouldn’t return until the police package Charger dropped in 2006. From ’97 until ’06, Ford had the RWD police sedan market sewn up.

They’ve abandoned it now, trying to push the Taurus as a worthy successor. GM and Chrysler both returned to the market with RWD sedans, for now at least. Perhaps Ford will as well.


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How Low Can You Go: NTSB Proposes Lowering BAC limit to 0.05 Wed, 15 May 2013 20:59:00 +0000 Aftermath of Carrollton, KY  bus crash May 14, 1988.

Aftermath of Carrollton, KY bus crash May 14, 1988.

No one is in favor of drunk driving. Don’t do it. Now that I’ve completed the ritualistic incantation prior to writing a piece about drunk driving, let’s hit the jump and discuss the latest proposal from the NTSB.

Yesterday the NTSB began a campaign using its bully pulpit to encourage state legislatures to adopt a per se blood alcohol content limit of 0.05%, a significant reduction from the current standard of 0.08%.  It’s common in other countries, particularly European ones, to have the limit set that low. However, as with, well, everything, at some point you reach a point of diminishing returns.

The usual suspects are lining up on both sides. The NTSB has no regulatory authority, so it can’t impose this. However, as with the campaigns to lower the limit from 0 .10 to 0.08 and the push for mandatory seatbelt usage, eventually the threat of withholding Federal highway funds from states that don’t adopt the lower limit will bring the states in line. The insurance companies are on board, of course, with the NTSB’s recommendation. Advocacy from MADD will most certainly begin apace.

On the other side you have the MOD squad, represented in the Post piece I linked to above by Sarah Longwell of the American Beverage Institute.  Ms. Longwell pointed out that fatalities aren’t occurring at .05 to .08. They occur most often at .16 or higher. God speed, Ms. Longwell. You’re about to get the opportunity to really earn what I’m sure is the quite handsome salary that ABI pays you.

So, in a nutshell the facts are these: The NTSB proposes lowering the per se BAC limit to 0.05%.  They have no legal authority to enforce such a recommendation, but they don’t need it because their sister agencies and (let’s not forget this) private associations like the IIHS and MADD  have both the legal means and the moral authority to accomplish what the NTSB wants anyway.   They’ll work to push it through.

On the other side you have the ABI and… selfish alcoholics? People who don’t care to get blitzed (and then endanger themselves and their fellow citizens) allied with the greedy capitalists (with blood stained hands) looking to turn a profit are the only ones who will do much more than raise token opposition to this proposal.

That’s the problem. The motives and the storyline are set and the characters have all been cast.  Rant all you want about “unconscionable Federal power grabs” and wave your dog-eared copies of Thomas Paine. A betting man would figure that the limit will be 0.05% before the decade is over and buy stock in O’Douls.

We can deride the NTSB, IIHS, and MADD as “nanny staters” and the like, but in the end, they’re not wrong. Places, such as Australia, that have lowered their limit to 0.05 have seen a reduction in DUI related fatalities. 12% in the case of Australia. That’s not nothing.

To argue the other side means that we have to recognize, and agree to live with, an “acceptable level of DUI related fatalities,”  to paraphrase the British during the hey- day of IRA bombings and Ulstermen knee cappings,Who wants to stand up and say “Almost 10,000 men, women, and children were killed in DUI related crashes last year and I say that’s still not enough!”

If we could guarantee that only drunk drivers and, perhaps, their passengers would be the only fatalities in DUI related crashes, then most of us would be on board, the way laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets have been repealed.  It doesn’t work that way. Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Carrollton bus crash. While largely forgotten elsewhere, it approaches something close to a state day of mourning in Kentucky.  The NTSB wasn’t particularly shy about using the anniversary as a backdrop for its announcement either.

Of course, a 0.05% limit wouldn’t have mattered in the Carrollton case. The driver who hit the bus, causing it to erupt into a fireball that killed 27 people, was at a 0.24% BAC level. Sentenced to just 16 years, Larry Mahoney spent less than 10 in prison after a jury of his peers elected to convict him of involuntary manslaughter instead of Murder.

So what’s to be done? Or not done? I’ll close with these few personal points and then turn it over to the B&B to hash out in the comments thread. I don’t drink very much. A six pack of Bud Light in the fridge will normally last me month.  Lowering the BAC limit to 0.05% won’t affect me personally.  Two drinks at dinner won’t put a guy in my weight class in any jeopardy of violating per se.

However, a single drink would probably put a 120 lb (or less) woman in jeopardy of per se. Two drinks will do it now at the 0.08% limit for many women.  That’s not “fair,” not that “fair” has anything to do with anything any more.

I was also never much of a “drunk hunter” in my patrol days. I’d take a DUI if it rolled in front of me, but I was never one to lurk around bars and wait to see a drunk stumble out to his car. Some guys, particularly in some of the third shift squads that overlapped with me on second shift, were like that. I never cared for those guys, not because I didn’t consider ‘sporting” to fish for drunks in a baited pond or because I felt sorry for the poor schmucks they were popping for DUI. I didn’t like those guys because they’d get themselves tied up on a DUI arrest for two to three hours, leaving me and my fellow second shift officers to continue to catch calls after we’d already been running call to call for six hours before they came on shift. (Not particularly noble, but it is what it is.)

I can say that of the DUIs I did arrest back in the day, I never had one that I stopped on suspicion of DUI for driving in what we will call a stereotypically drunk manner (weaving, too slow, crossing the center line, etc.) who was under a 0.10.  Sure, I caught a few that were less than that after I stopped them for something else that sober drivers sometimes do, like running a light or an equipment violation, and detected alcohol when I made contact with them. But for the behaviors that we all generally recognize as “drunk driving?” Never under a 0.10 and usually 0.12 or greater. I know, I know. Anecdotal evidence, particularly personal anecdotal evidence, doesn’t count.

What counts are studies, which the NTSB has in droves. In fact, one of the little nuggets in their announcement yesterday was that their research has shown that impairment can start as low as 0.01%.  Take a healthy swig during Communion and risk losing your license? Admittedly, that’s hyperbole, but it’s not far off.

I’m not in favor of drunk driving. No one is. But I truly believe that we’re past the point of diminishing returns on per se BAC. Arresting more people for having drunk less alcohol is bad policy. Keep the levels the same, but let’s get serious about the penalties. DUI law as it’s currently written serves mainly to feed the courts and the lawyers while ensuring that the suspects get off with relatively light penalties particularly for the first and second offenses. Getting a DUI will cost you a lot in court costs and lawyer’s fees, but it doesn’t really hurt you. If DUI is as deadly as we all seem to believe it is, then let’s stiffen the jail terms and driver’s licensing penalties for it and concentrate on waging a little shock and awe on first and second offenders. That would be a better tribute to the victims of crimes like Carrollton.

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Audi Boldly Goes Where No Product Placement Has Gone Before Wed, 08 May 2013 11:30:37 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Product placement in movies and television can be tricky. It gets hard for the viewer to suspend disbelief and get into a movie or television show when every character pulls up in a brand new model offered by a single manufacturer. I’m looking at you, producers of the 60 minute Chevrolet commercial that runs every Monday on CBS Hawaii Five- O.  I’m a cop who works a lot of overtime. The newest vehicle in my family’s personal fleet is seven years old. No new cars will be gracing my driveway any time soon.

It’s especially hard to pull off if you’re talking about a high- end product like a luxury automobile. Audi appears to be pushing the envelope this summer, with supporting roles for the Audi R8 in the new Iron Man 3 already being advertised. Judging from this commercial that appears to have first hit the web on May 6, it looks like we’ll be looking for the Audi rings to be prominently displayed on 23rd century land speeders in the new Star Trek: Into Darkness movie as well. Still, it’s a funny and well done commercial that’s definitely worth a couple minutes of your time.

Hit the jump for the video that explains exactly what the hell Original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is singing about if your knowledge of geek trivia is wanting…

Behold the wonder that is The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.

Yes, this really happened. It was the sixties. Everyone was on drugs.

Click here to view the embedded video.

You’re welcome.

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Mad Men Season 6: For Immediate Release Mon, 06 May 2013 21:07:07 +0000 MM_606_MY_0116_1330 Picture courtesy of

I was a late comer to Mad Men, AMC’s highly successful and critically acclaimed drama that airs on Sunday nights. It was only as the fifth season was underway and I started to see reports on the interwebs that Jaguar was playing heavily into their story line that my curiosity was piqued. When my wife suggested that we try it out on Netflix last summer, I agreed. And quickly became hooked.


   In case you’ve managed to live under a rock for six years instead of four the way I did and have no idea what Mad Men is about, hit this link to AMC’s website and get caught up.

Cars figure heavily into the plots and subplots of the show and have since the very beginning. An ad agency is defined not only by the clients it already has, but also by the ones it doesn’t. The fictitious firm, Sterling- Cooper- Draper- Pryce, that the show is centered around is a small firm, working hard to grab clients and earn it’s place with the bigger firms. By far the most prized account for one of these small firms is an automotive advertising account.

Automotive accounts are pursued like the Holy Grail of advertising in the series. More than once one of the main characters has bemoaned the fact that SCDP has been playing in the advertising bush leagues, with clients that include regional airlines, baked beans, and various other food stuffs.

In season five the firm managed to land their first “car,” when they secured an account with Jaguar in return for pimping out one of the lead female characters to the head of the Jaguar dealers’ association. It was a loathsome move that tarnished what should have been the firm’s greatest triumph.

The opportunity to dump Jaguar finally presented itself in the May 5th episode. (If you haven’t watched it yet and ignored the other SPOILER ALERT, stop reading now.) Through a series of machinations by one of the founders of SCDP, the firm managed to score a chance to pitch a sales campaign for a new “top- secret” Chevrolet. The car, although not explicitly named as such at this point in the series, is the lowly Chevrolet Vega.*

Part of the fun of watching Mad Men is the knowledge that we, the viewing audience, have of the historical events that are right around the corner for the characters. In this case we know that history will judge the Vega (and it’s main competitors: the Ford Pinto and the AMC Gremlin) to be a total piece of crap, but we ‘re going to get to vicariously experience the hope and wonder of the characters as they work on selling the new car.

We don’t think of the Vega as a bright spot in automotive history, but at the time it was seen as cutting edge, from the Vert- A- Pac vertical rail shipping method, that turned to the cars on their noses to pack 30 units to a railcar instead of the standard 18, to the new Lordstown, OH assembly plant that was the most automated auto plant at the time.  It was also extremely popular, selling over a million units in it’s first three years of production.Detroit was finally taking a growing piece of the automotive market, the sub- compact car, seriously after decades of leaving it to VW and Honda.

It’s also the perfect car for the fictitious advertising agency of SCDP to be hustling. So much of the show centers around the conflict between the brash, forward thinking ad men and their conservative, traditional minded clientele. Almost every pitch meeting shown on the show begins with the SCDP creative team pitching a daring, non- traditional approach to selling the client’s product, the client balking at the pitch, and the SCDP team either selling out and coming back with a boring alternative that meets the client’s expectations, convincing the client to take a chance, or telling the client to get bent and throwing away the account.

Since the Vega is new, one can expect that SCDP’s flair for edgy, provocative advertising would have a better chance of being accepted and used. But they’re also going to be confronting the largest, most conservative client that they’ve ever worked for. The conflict between the creative teams and Chevrolet’s management should make for a lot of drama.

Personally I’m waiting to view the Vega through the characters’ eyes. Like I said before, we know from history that the Vega  is doomed by rust, labor strife at the new Lordstown plant, and numerous quality issues that will all but lock GM and the rest of Detroit out of the small car market for a generation. But on the show it’s 1968. The Vega is known as the XP-887.  Things we take for granted like using a computer to design a car and then building it on an assembly line populated by robots is exciting and new, bursting with possibility.

It’s going to make for quite a show.

* I am 99% sure that the car has to be the Vega. During a scene in which one character was informing the creative team about the pitch, I think he referred to the secret car as the “XP-8 something something.”  It’s an all- new car, designed by computer, and the SCDP staff talks about getting the chance to “name it.” The Vega is the only thing that fits.

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Fear Of A Black Planet Fri, 03 May 2013 14:30:19 +0000 Chevy Equinox Trio Picture by David Hester

Take a good look at the picture above. What do you see? If your answer is that you see three black Chevrolet Equinox “cute utes,” you’d be wrong.

I took the picture at about four in the afternoon on a sunny day at my local Chevrolet dealer. According to their window stickers, each of those trucklets are a different color. The Equinox furtherest from the camera, facing the building, is the only one that is Black. The one closest to the camera, next to the curb, is Black Granite Metallic. The third Equinox is painted Tungsten Metallic. Here’s a shot from a different angle of the Tungsten Metallic and Black Granite Metallic trucks. See the difference?

Tungsten on left GBM on right Picture by David Hester

Yeah, me neither.

And if that’s not enough different shades of Pretentiously Named Dark Color That Looks Almost the Same from 50 Feet to satisfy you, Chevrolet offers a fourth shade of Almost Black for the Equinox called Ashen Gray Metallic. Here is a picture of an Ashen Gray Metallic Equinox parked next to a Tungston Metallic Equinox. The AGM truck is on the left. I think.

AGM on left Tungsten on right Picture by David Hester

Keep in mind that these pictures were taken on a sunny day. Time, and the fact that the dealership was still open and I didn’t feel like dealing with any salesmen desperate to close a sale before the end of the month, kept me from examining the trucks any closer. I returned the following Saturday evening after the lot had closed for some more pictures. The sky was clouding over as a thunderstorm approached, so there wasn’t any sun to bring out the metallic flakes that help to differentiate the individual colors. Here are all four of them in order from darkest to not quite as dark.




Granite Black Metallic

Granite Black Metallic

Tungsten Metallic

Tungsten Metallic

Ashen Gray Metallic

Ashen Gray Metallic

Seriously. It’s not just me, right? These colors are almost the same.

For 2013 the Chevy Equinox is available in 11 different colors. That’s actually on the high end for modern mass produced vehicles and it’s down from 12 options during the 2012 model year. The Equinox’s big brother, the Traverse, is available in 9 shades, as is the Suburban.  The Cadillac XTS makes do with only 8. Somehow, the marketing mavens at GM have given buyers of the fifth cheapest car in Chevrolet’s lineup more color options than they gave the higher end flagship models.

On the other hand, if 4 of the 11 colors are so similar that 9 out of 10 eyewitnesses to a drive- by shooting involving a Chevy Equinox after dark would describe the getaway vehicle’s color as “Black,” are consumers really being offered much choice at all? On Chevy’s  ”Build Your Own Page,” photoshopped onto a beach background, each of these colors appear very different from one another when viewed on a computer screen. But in real life, parked next to one another, they look way too much alike. This lack of choice was augmented at my local dealership by the fact that of 19 new Equinoxes for sale, 10 of them were painted one of the four “Almost Black” colors in question. The point was further driven home by the almost complete lack of diversity in interior color ordered by the dealer. Only a single model had a gray interior. All of the others were black.

Chevrolet (and presumably, the dealer) would most likely reply that they are simply responding to what customers want. Every year DuPont publishes a survey of the most popular automotive exterior colors broken down by market. In the latest survey black and gray were the second and fourth most popular colors in the North American market, as well as in the world overall.

All well and good, I suppose. There’s no reason why black and gray shouldn’t both be part of the lineup. But why offer two of each color and why make your grays so dark? Compare the color range in the four pictures above to the picture of a 2012 Equinox painted in a discontinued color called Graystone Metallic I found for sale on the used car side of the lot.


Graystone Metallic

Graystone Metallic

So why would Chevrolet be so seemingly afraid of color? Their competitors aren’t. At the Ford dealership across the street I found these two Escapes. The dealer had stocked multiple examples of both.

Frosted Glass and Deep Impact Blue

Frosted Glass and Deep Impact Blue

It seems that Ford and Chevy have reversed their traditional roles when it comes to exterior colors. Most people have heard Henry Ford’s famous quote regarding the color of the Model T:  “Any customer can have a car painted any colour he wants so long as it is black.” Most people don’t know that prior to 1914 the Model T was available in multiple colors and the black standard was only adopted as Ford refined his assembly line process. The conventional wisdom is that Chevrolet (and GM overall) were able to grab market share because their models were offered in a greater variety of colors. There’s some truth to that belief, but it’s not the whole story.

It’s obvious that the old days of dozens of color combinations for each model are gone. That doesn’t mean that consumers shouldn’t be given a few more choices than the manufacturers seem to feel comfortable offering today.  At the very least, there’s no reason to offer four shades of practically the same color. C’mon, Chevrolet. Take a chance and show us some color.  Dump two of those four colors and give us another green or a real brown. Throw in a Burnt Orange or a Turquoise instead. Your competitors are doing it.


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Cop Drives Classic Cop Car: 1972 Ford Galaxie 500 Sat, 27 Apr 2013 18:05:38 +0000

As the nation’s peacekeepers are learning to live without the venerable Ford Crown Victoria it is also a time to reflect on what police cars were like in the time before the Panther platform debuted in 1978 for the 1979 model year. In 1972, the cruiser of choice for the City of Lexington was the Ford Galaxie 500.

This particular car wears the blue and gold livery of the now defunct City of Lexington Police Department. In 1974 the government of the City of Lexington was merged with the government of Fayette County to create the Lexington- Fayette Urban County Government. All city and county services and departments were merged as well. This car was given as a retirement present to Chief E.C. Hale when he retired on June 1, 1972, which makes for a significantly better retirement present than the cheap gold watch I expect to get.

Chief Hale had served 40 years with the city department and passed away in 1974. The car sat on the street near his home, exposed to both vandals and the elements, for many years before his family returned it to the city. Originally a white unmarked unit, it was restored to patrol duty specifications and is now used for parade duties, although it still retains an official government property number (P# 0462) and its trunk is equipped with the fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and other equipment required by policy.

So what’s it like to drive a police car that’s older than you are? Kind of boring, actually. There’s a myth that runs through our popular culture that police cars, particularly the police cars of yesterday, were fire- breathing muscle cars equipped with “cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks, made before catalytic converters” that could run down the Mustangs, Barracudas, and GTOs stalking the nation’s streets with ease and sound like Death himself was chasing you while they did it.


Like all good myths, the myth of the invincible old police car is rooted in truth. I was once told by a veteran beat cop that back in the old days when you were alone at night in an alley, trying to avoid taking a beating yourself while handing out “wood shampoos” to unruly drunks and screaming for help on one of the original 10- lb Motorola portables that could be counted on to work 25- 30% of the time, you didn’t listen for approaching sirens coming to your aid because the sirens weren’t worth a damn and you couldn’t hear them half of the time anyway. Instead you listened for the roar of the secondaries opening up as your backup thundered down the final straight leading to your last known location. That’s how you knew the cavalry had arrived.

But P#0462 is not one of those mythical cars. 1972 was a rough year, automotively speaking. Newly introduced smog controls were strangling all of the power out of our engines. Of course, power was already down across the board, at least on paper, since the manufacturers had been forced to abandon their wildly optimistic gross horsepower ratings for somewhat more realistic net ratings. Police service vehicles were no exception.

And then, as now, the vast majority of cop cars weren’t sold with the biggest, most aggressive motor. This car left the factory powered by a measly 177 hp 351 Cleveland 2 barrel. 335 lb- ft of torque help offset that number when taking off, but acceleration is still best described as “leisurely.”

You don’t really want much more than leisurely acceleration, however, given the overly assisted power steering. When you read an article about a new car in which the author complains about the steering being “numb,” you have to understand that the author has either forgotten or has never driven a car from the days when power steering was an option on most cars. The goal was to make the steering so effortless as to enable the driver to steer with just a finger, a mission which was accomplished (and then some) in this particular car. The steering wheel feels completely disconnected from the front wheels and spins as freely as the plastic Fisher- Price steering wheel attached to a toddler’s car seat. I couldn’t imagine driving this car in an emergency situation with so little feedback from the road. The modern tires added during the car’s restoration would help, but not enough to overcome the soft suspension and drum brakes.

For non- emergency duties, particularly the parade details it serves in these days, the Galaxie works just fine. Visibility is great, as it is in most old cars, even though a passenger side wing mirror was an option not selected when the car was ordered. Every couple of years during our annual in-service training we go out to the skid pad and practice our low speed precision driving skills. Much of the course is done in reverse, backing down “alleys” and reversing into “driveways” built with orange traffic cones. I would rather perform those backing exercises in this car with only one external mirror than in a new Taurus with a video camera.

There’s plenty of room inside, especially with the bench seat. The car was equipped with air conditioning, which still works. I had assumed that the A/C was ordered on the car because of it’s intended use by the Chief and that the rank and file would have made do without it. I checked with a couple of old guys and was surprised to learn that by the early 70′s we were ordering A/C on all our cars. The optional AM radio in this car was a special feature reserved for commanders and it wasn’t until the end the decade before stereos became common in all of our patrol cars.

As far as emergency equipment goes the Galaxie seems almost naked with only the two rotating blues on the roof compared to the low flying alien spacecraft theme you get from a modern patrol car at night. Since P#0462 was originally an unmarked admin unit, it even lacks a spot light. The old mechanical siren with it’s long, drawn out fade when you turn it off as compared to the instantly silent electric models of today is a hoot to play with in the parking lot of Comm Tech until you start to get dirty looks from the people who are actually at work inside the building.

So what’s the final verdict on this piece of history? I left my drive in P#0462 with a greater appreciation of how difficult street work was back in the day, when your radio only worked half the time and your car handled like a yacht. Just getting to your call was an adventure. We tend to forget just how much basic automotive technology has advanced and what each of those improvements meant. How many accidents, for example, have been avoided by the simple recognition that maybe dialing back in a little resistance into our power steering systems was a good thing because it provides the driver with vital information during emergency maneuvers?

Like most historical artifacts P#0462 is best appreciated through the soft focus haze of nostalgia heavily saturated by myth. It’s most impressive when viewed from behind the cordon as it rolls slowly past you in a parade with blue lights slowly spinning and the low rumble of a V-8 punctuated by whoops and yelps from a siren that slowly fades away. Any modern police car, including the lowliest V-6 powered FWD Taurus, would run rings around this car and any of it’s four- barrel equipped brothers. But the crowds watching from behind the barricades don’t know that and I doubt any of them will look at a 2013 Taurus, Charger, or Caprice forty years from now and speak approvingly and with a touch of envy about how special those cars are with their “cop tires, cop suspension, and cop motor.”

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The Old Man and the Camaro: Part 2 Mon, 22 Apr 2013 15:02:16 +0000

Author’s note- In order to protect the privacy of the victims, some names and details have been omitted or changed.

Part One of this story can be found here.

In police work it’s never a question of what you know. The only thing that matters is what you can prove. The Nurse hadn’t straight up stolen the car. A couple of days after he’d refused to put her in for the theft of his wallet, the Old Man had let the Nurse back into his life. At some point, he’d willingly given her the keys and she’d hung around until just before the son arrived to pick up his father before clearing out with the Camaro and God only knew what else.. That meant that the most Chris could charge was a misdemeanor, Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle, normally used to deal with kids who don’t bring back their parents’ cars before curfew instead of hitting them with a felony.

Chris worked it anyway. He tracked down the Nurse’s mother and kept at her until she gave her daughter’s location up: Baltimore. I’ve watched every episode of  The Wire three times. The Camaro had probably already been traded for a handful of yellowtops and pressed into service as the getaway vehicle of choice for drive- by shootings.

Chris got the Nurse’s cellphone number and the address where she was supposedly staying. He called her a dozen times a day, threatening her with a Grand Jury indictment and prison time. He figured out what district she was living in, called the BPD shift commander in charge, and invoked the brotherhood of the Thin Blue Line to get a couple of uniforms sent to give her a little face to face encouragement. The Camaro wasn’t at the house when they visited, but BPD promised to find a reason to hook it if they caught it on the street. That would have gotten it out of the Nurse’s clutches, but it would have created new problems for the owner in that the car would be collecting impound and storage fees on the other side of the country for as long as it took for him to arrange to get it back.

The best solution, the only solution, was to get the Nurse to bring the car back herself. For over a week Chris made the Nurse the center of his universe whenever his other cases gave him time. He coaxed, threatened, flattered, and raged at her and everyone he could find in her immediate orbit. It was a majestic performance in the dark art of the projection of perceived police authority instead of actual police authority. The truth was that the case would be a weak prosecution at best. Even if Chris managed to slide a warrant for Unauthorized Use past an inattentive judge, no Assistant County Attorney was going to sign off on extraditing the Nurse from three states away for a misdemeanor, the city budget being what it is.

In the end it worked. A couple of days after BPD paid the Nurse a visit, she called Chris. The Camaro was back in Lexington, left unlocked on a quiet street with the keys in the console. She was back in Baltimore. Chris and I headed out of the office to retrieve it before somebody else stole it. The exterior was filthy, but undamaged. The latch for the rear hatch was broken, making it impossible to secure.

The interior was trashed. Candy wrappers, empty cigarette packs, and Big Gulp cups littered the floorboards. It reeked of eau de criminale, a olfactory combination of stale sweat, spilled beer, greasy food, desperation, and various “flavors” of smoke that any beat cop with more than ten minutes in uniform would instantly recognize. Mostly smoke in this case.  The ashtray was stuffed full of both cigarette butts and “roaches.” I brushed a small pile of stems and seeds into the street before settling down behind the wheel, wishing I’d thought to grab a pair of latex gloves from the trunk of Chris’s Crown Vic.

It fired up the first time, although the fuel gauge needle was way past the “E” and the warning light glowed menacingly. Chris needed fuel for his Crown Vic as well, so I followed him gingerly to the closest gas station that accepted our fleet credit card. While I filled the Crown Vic, Chris went inside to pay for $5 worth of low grade for the Camaro, knowing that he wouldn’t bother to submit a request for reimbursement.

We stashed the Camaro in the municipal garage next to headquarters, thinking that the son would make plans to retrieve it by the end of the week. He didn’t and one morning Chris stopped me as I walked into the office. He pulled me into the breakroom for a secure conversation.

“He doesn’t want to come back to Lexington. The Old Man’s taking a turn for the worst. He’ll never drive it again and the son doesn’t want it. He’s asking me if he can just give it to us.”

“Us as in the department?”

“No, us as in you or me. I told him we couldn’t do that and he said to make him an offer if we need to feel better about it. I think you could offer him a hundred bucks for it and he’d say okay. I don’t want it, but I said I’d ask you.”

Ethical temptations present themselves from time to time in police work. And they wouldn’t be called temptations if they weren’t, in fact, tempting. If I was going to make an offer, it would have to be fair. I checked the NADA website. The average retail price was north of four grand. I couldn’t afford “fair” and I wasn’t going to do it for “not fair.” Besides, between the Camaro I already owned, my pickup, my wife’s minivan, and the city’s Crown Vic, my house already looked like a used car lot. Bringing home an orphan Camaro that smelled of dirtbag wouldn’t do my property values or my marriage any favors.

Chris told the son that he’d help him dispose of the car legitimately. The son struck a deal with a local used car superstore. I strolled the lot while Chris found the manager that the son had been working and turned over the keys. The Camaro was at least fifteen years older than the next oldest car on the lot. I figured it would be headed for auction a couple of hours after we left the lot, which we did without looking back.

So what’s the moral of this story? The Nurse went unpunished. Karma will probably catch her, but neither Chris or I will get the satisfaction of hearing the bracelets ratchet shut around her wrists. The Old Man would be dead before the end of the year. At least he and his son reconciled before he died.

What matters is the job and the way you work it, even when it doesn’t matter. Every detective works the cases that matter as hard as he can with the facts and resources he has at the time. It’s how you do your job when the case doesn’t matter, when the bosses aren’t watching, and when you know that your efforts are most likely in vain that ultimately defines what kind of a cop you really are. And in this case a detective pulled every trick he knew to get back a lonely old man’s car, even though the Old Man would never know. In the end, that’s enough.

It has to be.

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The Old Man and the Camaro: Part 1 Fri, 19 Apr 2013 19:08:11 +0000

Author’s note: In order to protect the identity of the victims in this case, some names and details have been omitted or changed.

There are a million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them.

It wasn’t my case. Chris had asked me to accompany him one morning as he performed some case follow- ups. In a department with over 500 sworn officers, Chris is the only detective assigned to the full- time investigation of elder exploitation for a city of 300,000 souls. Whenever he needs help, he grabs whoever isn’t busy and we tag along.

The story was familiar. The Old Man was in failing health, his mental faculties beginning the long fade into night. His wife had passed a few months before. Estranged from his son, who lived out West, he was home bound and dependant on a rotation of home health caregivers to take care of him.

With home health workers, as with everything else in life, you get what you pay for. The Old Man could afford a better than average service. He’d been an oilman and was comfortably, if not extravagantly, retired. The problem is that even if you pay an above average price, the services sometimes still employ below average people. It’s low- skilled, thankless work. Turnover is high and people with better prospects take better jobs.

It was a situation that was perfect for the Nurse, a petite blonde with all of her teeth and the pre- anorexic build that quickly appears when a girl spends her paycheck on Oxys instead of food. No direct supervision, with the patient confined to one bedroom of a rambling house full of small, pretty things that could slowly disappear. Bottles of heavy duty pain killers to be borrowed from. The Old Man didn’t miss them. He couldn’t remember having them in the first place.

Of course if the patient is male and alone, and you are a female fifty or more years his junior, it doesn’t take much to wrap him around your finger. Nothing so crass as actual sexual favors. Just a gentle hand allowed to linger on a shoulder. A low cut blouse every once in awhile. Maybe bring your kid to work one evening.  Lord knows he hasn’t seen his own grandkids in years.

The requests for favors began. A cash advance towards next week’s pay. The kid really needed some new school clothes. The rent was due. She really hated to ask, but could he spot her a couple hundred to tide her over? Little by little, ten, twenty, fifty dollars at a time, it began to float away.

Eventually somebody reported it. The Nurse let herself be seen with some jewelry that the caregiver on the other shift knew had once belonged to the Old Man’s wife. And so Chris and I went there to try to get a statement from the Old Man. Chris had already been dealing with the situation for a couple of weeks and had been to the house once before.

“You’ll like him, Dave. He’s got an old Camaro.”

We were let in and led to the Old Man’s room by the caregiver who made the initial report. Chris hoped to get a statement from the Old Man that would support charging the Nurse with elder exploitation. Nothing doing. Again, the familiar routine: The Nurse wouldn’t do that. I lent it to her but forgot. Everything is fine. The Old Man’s mind was in the Senior zone. He wasn’t obviously suffering from dementia, but all of the cylinders weren’t firing either, at least not all of the time.

He knew the jewelry we were talking about and told us the story of how he bought it at Tiffany’s on a trip to New York. He remembered details about his Camaro too, when Chris mentioned that I also had one in an effort to keep the Old Man engaged.

“It’s a 1992 model. Bought it when I retired. Thought it would be more fun than a Caddy or a Lincoln. Has a custom exhaust on it. Yes, sir.  Fun little car.”

An entertaining forty- five minutes, but it was clear we weren’t going to get what Chris needed to make a charge. We drove back to the office and Chris made contact with the man’s son, advising him to seek legal guardianship of his father sooner rather than later. The son said he’d look into it in a way that meant he probably wouldn’t.

A month or so passed and another report hit Chris’s desk. This time the Old Man was the complainant. The Nurse had been let go by the home health company in the interim, but she still had her claws in the Old Man. There had been more borrowed money, but the demands for it were less kind. In the report the Old Man alleged that the Nurse called him after his caregiver left for the night and asked for more. She was to call him on her cellphone when she was outside the house. Since the Old man was confined to his room, he would use the garage door opener to let visitors in and out of the house when he was alone. The Nurse made the call but when he opened the garage door to let her in, a rather large black male walked in instead, went straight to the bedroom, grabbed his wallet off the dresser, and ran away.

We went back to the house. This time the garage door was open when we arrived and I caught sight of the Old Man’s pride and joy. The white RS coupe was tucked away, covered with a thin layer of dust, but the tires glowed with a thick coating of Armor- All. The interior was spotless. Except for a tasteful gray pinstripe running down each flank and a couple of fat exhaust tips poking out of the back, it was in stock condition. While there’s nothing particularly special about an early ‘90s Camaro, the Old Man obviously loved it anyway.

Chris was hopeful that the Old Man would throw the Nurse under the bus this time. Unfortunately he had time to reflect and was now absolutely certain that the Nurse couldn’t have anything to do with it. The delay from the day the report was taken by a patrol officer to the time Chris got it two days later was a killer. Once again, we left without the crucial statements Chris needed.

He called the son again. This time he was ready to reconcile with his father. A few weeks later the Old Man moved back West with his family. The son called Chris the day after they got back home. The trip had gone fine and the Old Man seemed to his new retirement home well enough. There was just one problem:

The Camaro was missing.

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Driving Tip of the Day: Quit Being Nice Thu, 18 Apr 2013 13:00:14 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Remember the great “Road Rage” epidemic of the late- nineties? Before the media and various bureaucratic institutions jumped on “distracted driving” as the automotive menace du jour that’s going to turn our highways and byways red with blood, there was a brief period of intense focus on road rage.  All of the major news shows, like Dateline and 20/20, had pieces about traffic disputes escalating from displays of a middle finger into multiple homicide by Weedeater or whatever other gardening tool fell quickly to hand.

Certainly such incidents can and do happen, although we don’t seem to hear about them as much as we did a few short years ago. However, the other side of the road rage coin can be just as dangerous. I’m talking about violations of the rules of the road in the misguided attempt to be “nice” to your fellow motorists.

As I write this I realize that there are probably many in the TTAC audience who live in places where even the use of turn signals is considered a sign of weakness and the idea that any of the heathens that they share the roads with on their morning commute would ever create a safety hazard through a well- intentioned, but misguided attempt to cut a fellow driver a break is laughable. There are still a few places left where common courtesy is the norm. The downside is that random acts of kindness that also violate the rules of the road generate any number of potential consequences unforseen by the Good Samaritans among us.

Case in point: Thunderstorms rolled through Central KY early Wednesday morning, knocking out power and generally making the morning rush hour miserable. At one of the intersections on my way to “real” work, the traffic lights had gotten knocked out during the worst of the storm and had automatically reset to flash. The main road through the intersection runs east- west and is a divided four- lane highway with dedicated left and right turn lanes as you approach the intersection. It has a speed limit of 55 mph. The lights governing it were flashing amber.

The cross street is a two lane road with dedicated left- turn lanes running north- south, with the north route leading to the back entrance of an elementary school and a rural country road leading to a residential area to the south. The lights for that road defaulted to flashing red.

Page 13 of the official Kentucky Driver Manual reads:


A flashing yellow light means you must slow down and watch for others. It is found at intersections, construction areas, and on some vehicles, like tow trucks.

A flashing red light means you must come to a full stop and proceed only when the way is clear.

It seems easy enough to understand, especially when written out in English at a fourth grade reading level. If you have a flashing yellow light, proceed through the intersection. Slow down? Yes. Be careful? Of course. Come to a complete stop on a four- lane highway with a speed limit of 55 during rush hour in the rain in order to let cross traffic out in an effort to be “nice?” Absolutely not.

Of course, the latter was what was happening. Rather than following the rules of the road, a rather high percentage of Good Samaritans were coming to complete stops at the intersection. They were then happy to sit there, waving frantically at the first car in line on the cross street to proceed through the intersection.

The problem was that without the light to coordinate all four lanes of traffic stopping at the same time the cross traffic couldn’t safely proceed, especially if they planned to turn left. The driver in the right westbound lane would stop, while the leftlane traffic kept moving as they were supposed to do. If both westbound lanes stopped, the eastbound lanes would still be going.  If all eastbound and westbound traffic somehow magically stopped, then inevitably someone in one of the left turn lanes on the four lane road would attempt to make their turn at the same time that one of the driver’s turning left from the two lane road tried to make their turn.

Meanwhile, traffic on the four lane roadway was still approaching the intersection at 55 (or higher) mph in both directions. In the heavy rain. There weren’t any accidents behind me before I was able to get through, but I did hear a couple of panic stops.  Traffic was snarled in all directions, which is a ridiculous thing to ever see in my quiet suburban community.

If everyone had simply followed the rules of the road, the traffic east and westbound would have kept moving and eventually thinned out enough that the north and southbound traffic could have safely proceeded as well. Yes, they would have had to wait longer than they would have on a day when the traffic light was functioning properly. In the end everything would have been more efficient and ultimately safer for everyone passing through that intersection.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t let a fellow motorist merge or that just because you have the right of way you should be a jerk about asserting it. What I am saying is that more often than not the best way to be “nice” to your fellow motorists is to follow the rules, particularly when an unexpected situation, like a non- functioning traffic light, or inclement weather arises. Trying to give someone a break in violation of the rules of the road  in those situations can create a much greater hazard.

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Cop Drives Cop Car: 2012 Dodge Charger Pursuit Sat, 06 Apr 2013 18:54:55 +0000

My takedown of the Ford Police Interceptor Sedan Taurus generated almost two hundred comments. Having recognized what the people want, I immediately began scheming for rides in the Ford’s two major competitors in order to give it to them. An E-mail, followed by a visit to the municipal sales manager at Lexington’s Freedom Dodge- Chrysler- Jeep- Fiat and I was provided with a 2012 Dodge Charger Pursuit for a weekend evaluation.

Mr. Jim Sawrie is the cop car guy at Freedom Dodge and generally keeps a demonstration unit on hand equipped with a center console, protective barrier, and a lightbar. He stripes his demo cars up in various ways, even aping the decal package Lexington PD uses a couple of years ago. He gave his current model a pretty basic decal job, plain enough that you wouldn’t think it would ever be mistaken for a real police car. So, of course, when I stopped to take photos of the car near downtown Lexington I was approached by a guy who wanted to know which Federal alphabet agency was represented by the acronym DEMO.

“DEMO? Why, that’s the Department of Energy Military Operations Command. The “C” is silent and for your safety and in the interest of National Security, you need to move along…”

I can’t really blame the citizen for his concern. Even in refrigerator white and with minimal markings the Charger screams “Official Government Business” as loudly as the Crown Vic ever did. “Beautiful and intimidating,” was how the supervisor in charge of the fleet of Chargers being run by a neighboring agency described it when I called to get his views on the Dodge’s long term durability.  Compared to the plain- Jane styling of the Caprice and the bulbous, dog-with-it’s-butt-in-the-air look of the Taurus, the Charger’s long, low, and wide profile definitely has the most character.

That exterior design helps make the Charger’s interior a much more comfortable place to get to the business of police work, especially compared to the Taurus. I donned my gunbelt and spent much of a Saturday morning driving around with it on. The center console Mr. Sawrie had chosen to install in the car was fairly wide, starting at 11 inches wide at the base of the center stack and tapering to 9 inches wide by the time it reached the area of the seatbelt buckles. Even with a full gunbelt, I had plenty of room without the console pressing in on me, although a slightly narrower console wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Note to equipment vendors: Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you have to fill it.

The extra space makes entering and exiting the front seats of the car very easy, particularly when doing so quickly. Both the front and rear doors open 90 degrees, further than the doors on a Crown Vic and much further than on the Taurus with it’s nylon retntion strap that retards the opening of the front doors. Getting into the backseat is very tight, particularly for a prisoner with his hands secured behind his back. The Dodge’s low roofline is the main culprit here, particularly the way it slopes sharply back towards the “C” pillar. The routine admonition given to prisoners by cops all over the world to “Watch your head and knees” becomes more meaningful when herding perps in and out of a Charger instead of a Crown Vic. Seriously, jailbirds. Watch your heads.

The interior was quieter than I expected, even at highway speeds when air turbulence around the exterior spotlight mounted on the “A” pillar and around the lightbar tends to create a lot of wind noise in marked police vehicles. I was also surprised by the visibility. I had expected that the Charger’s low slung roofline would create a driving experience similar to that of the Taurus. That wasn’t the case at all. While blindspots still existed, particularly with a protective barrier installed, I never felt closed in and blind the way I did when driving the Taurus. Parallel parking, even without the benefit of a rearview camera, was fine.

Controls for the HVAC and stereo were handled primarily through the Uconnect touchscreen, although there were redundant controls for both mounted below. A USB outlet and auxillary port are standard. I found Uconnect to be easy to learn without resorting to the owner’s manual. The car was equipped with optional Bluetooth and paired quickly and easily with my Samsung phone. An option like Bluetooth is probably not taken up by most departments, but perhaps more of them should consider it. Like it or not, fair or unfair, the simple reality is that the cellphone is a vital tool to most patrol officers and one that will be used while driving. The nature of the job will simply require a certain number of distractions to the driver and any technology that can reduce those should be embraced, even if it costs a bit more per unit.

The car I drove was equipped with the 5.7 L Hemi V-8 and included cylinder deactivation. If anything the cylinder deactivation programming is over- aggressive. It seemed as if everytime I glanced at the instrument cluster, the computer was advising me that I was in ECO mode. The transition between four and eight-cylinder operation was relatively seemless and definitely makes a huge difference in fuel consumption. I averaged 15 mpg over 168 miles of driving. (I simulated the time spent idling in a normal patrol shift by leaving the engine running every time I got out to take photos of the car.)

That’s actually pretty good for a police car, particularly one with the 370 horsepower of the Charger’s Hemi V-8. Put your foot in it and all attempts at ECO management vanish with a roar. Testing by the Michigan State Police recorded a top speed of 152 mph. I believe it. In fact, the Hemi might be too much. Had I been given a Charger instead of a Crown Vic when I first hit the streets at age 22, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here to write these articles today.  For most departments the 292 horsepower 3.7 L V-6 and a top speed of 141 mph would probably be a better choice.

Power is routed to the rear wheels through a 5 speed automatic, which includes Chrysler’s Autostick system. A column mounted gear selection lever is a welcome touch although it makes using Autostick almost impossible. The selection buttons for up and down shifting are mounted on the shift lever, which puts them in an awkward position for use during performance driving. I tried Autostick out on a twisty road near my home and found it nearly impossible to use while maintaining control of the wheel.

Control is definitely something you want to maintain. Overall the Charger is incredibly stable, but the Hemi will sneak up on you. The Crown Vic doesn’t particularly like to be hustled through the curves and responds with a certain amount of float and instability. Consequently you’re more aware of your speed as you approach corners in a Crown Vic.

The Charger hugs the road much better and builds your confidence until you glance down at the digital speedo readout as you enter a curve and HOLY CRAP THAT’S TOO FAST! I can report that the brakes  and the traction control work very well and kept me from having to have any awkward conversations with Bertel and Mr. Sawrie.

At least the bill wouldn’t have been too high. Fleet price for a Hemi powered Charger Pursuit starts at $23,585. For reference the most comparable civilian trim level, the Charger R/T, has a base MSRP of $29,995. For the budget minded municipal fleet manager, the V-6 powered Charger Pursuit starts at $21,949, undercutting the price of the cheapest Ford by $790.

Cheap is not usually considered a compliment and Dodge has a reputation, probably undeserved, for poor quality. My own agency’s experiences with Pentastar products has been negative. We were all issued Fords when I started in 1997, but the last of the old Diplomats had only been retired a couple of years before. No one I know who had the misfortune to have been issued one has anything good to say about them. When the previous generation of police Chargers hit the streets in 2006, we actually bought a few of them for use by detectives. Three out of eight developed transmission problems in the first two years of service.

Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial

With that track record in mind, I called a nearby agecy that has switched exclusively to Chargers and asked how their cars have held up. The sergeant in charge of the fleet, Mister “beautiful and intimidating,” reported that their experience has generally been positive. One unit had gone through three motor mounts in six months, but my source felt that was more an issue of operator error than a failure of the car. Front ends tend to need replacing around 75,000 miles. Unlike Lexington’s experience he’d only had to have two transmissions rebuilt and both of those were in cars that had done over 120,000 miles. He only had one of the new generation of Charger in his fleet, but it seemed to be holding up as well or better than the older cars.

His major complaint was that the Chargers cost more to repair than the Crown Vics did. That’s probably going to be a complaint with all of the new generation cop cars, however. The second-best thing about the Crown Vic, after it’s size, was it’s simplicity. In a fleet maintenance situation simplicity usually equates to “cheap to fix.”  All of the new models are significantly more complex.

Still, Dodge’s quality problems seemed to have mostly been resolved, at least in my source’s experience. The testimony of one fleet manager may not be evidence of a turnaround in and of itself, but it appears that the Charger has made significant inroads into the police market in Central Kentucky.

The introduction of the first generation of Charger was the first real challenge to Ford’s domination of the police market in a decade. The second generation appears to be better than the first, while still undercutting the price of the Taurus. I concluded my review of the Taurus by noting that the competition was nipping at Ford’s heels. I was wrong. With the new Charger, Dodge has passed them.

Freedom Dodge of Lexington, KY provided the vehicle and one tank of gas for this review.

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For All the Trucks I’ve Loved Before Sat, 30 Mar 2013 23:12:41 +0000

2001 Chevrolet Silverado LS with tasteful aftermarket NRA front license plate.

Car enthusiasts can be a fickle and judgmental lot when it comes to passion for things automotive. Certain types of vehicles are expected to be driven by a person who wishes to appropriate the label for themselves. Do you drive a Miata, S2000, or one of the original British sports cars that they echo? You can lay claim to the title of gear head or enthusiast without being challenged. Have a foreign car, especially a European one, that costs more than a Midwestern starter home? You probably won’t be called a poseur if you show up to your local cars and coffee gathering. Then, there are people who love trucks.

I yield to no man in my love of the sporting automobile. I’ve got a muscle car of my own tucked away in my garage. There’s nothing finer than a Saturday morning drive through the Kentucky hills, taking corners with more enthusiasm than talent, and feeling the wind buffet through the open T-tops as the V-8 drowns out the chorus of Springsteen’s Born to Run. But put a gun to my head, order me to choose between my Camaro and my 2001 Silverado pickup with the caveat that the vehicle I don’t choose will be set on fire, well, then I guess we’ll enjoy some F-body flambe.

Portrait of the author as a young man. Notice how far Mom kept me from the truck’s open bed, even when parked.  Picture taken by Dad, November 1981.

Grandpa Lonnie Hester only owned three vehicles during his slightly more than four-score and ten on this earth: all of them pickup trucks. The first was a Ford Model A that was replaced in 1949, the year my father was born, with a dark green Chevrolet. Grandpa Lonnie was tight-fisted and the only option on the truck was a heater because my Grandmother Ruby believed that riding around during the winter in the unheated Model A had contributed to my Aunt Jean’s early death. Grandpa ran that truck into the ground until Grandmother convinced him that not only did he deserve a new truck, but that it would also be a great help to my dad if he passed the ’49 on. That truck stayed in the family until I was nine.

Grandpa’s truck was a ’73 C-10, but the color on this ’76 C-20 is spot on. 

The first vehicle I ever drove was the truck Grandpa bought to replace the ’49: a powder- blue 1973 Chevrolet.  I was eleven when my father took me out into the pasture behind my grandmother’s house. I jerked and lurched through the field as my dad instructed me on the finer points of working my way through a three- speed on the tree with the occasional reminder that I needed to steer right… steer right… GO RIGHT OR YOU’LL HIT THE (thump) hay bale.

Three years later, and I was introduced to the time-honored tradition of cruising. Still not old enough to (legally) drive, I rode shotgun with my buddy Paul in his black Chevy S-10. He had tinted the widows way past the limit, installed the fat double- bladed wipers all the cool kids had in the late eighties, and mounted an enormous pair of speakers behind the seat. We terrorized the streets of Oxford, Alabama, after Wednesday night youth group, hollering at girls, conducting Chinese fire drills, and alternatively blasting Tone-Loc, AC/DC, and Charlie Daniels at volumes that today would definitely get kids written up for violations of municipal noise ordinances.

The three-across bench seat was perfect when one or (Score!) two girls needed a ride, particularly since everyone had to crowd more towards the passenger side in order to be out of poor, lonely Paul’s way so that he could shift. If more girls needed a ride, there was always the open bed in the days before mandatory seatbelt laws. I would occasionally ride back there myself (to keep them company, you understand) even though it would have simply killed my mother to know that I ever went anywhere without a seatbelt on. Doing things that would cause your mother to die if she knew is part of being fourteen. (Sorry, Mom.)

Despite all of this early exposure to the advantages of a pickup, I never considered one for myself and chose a two- door Chevrolet Beretta for my first new car upon graduation from high school in 1994. A few years later, flush with a steady paycheck from my first full-time job, I again failed to consider a truck and bought a used ’96 Firebird Formula two months before my wife became pregnant with our daughter. If I needed a truck, my dad always had one. When we bought our first house in 2000, I borrowed my dad’s ’94 Ford F-150 for a couple of weeks so I could move odds and ends from our apartment to the house while he got to tear around in my Firebird.

The beginning of the end. Long- term exposure to a F-150 finally seduced me into the world of dedicated pickup truck ownership.

Over those two weeks, I came to truly appreciate a pickup truck for what it could do, besides haul girls and survive low- speed farm collisions without damage. The space. The view over traffic. The ability to just go and get large stuff on my own without having to bum a ride from a friend with a truck. My wife and I had been wrestling our infant daughter in and out of the back seats of two-door cars for over a year. With the truck, the car-seat was level with us. Sure, it was a tight fit in parking lots and it wouldn’t win any drag races, but a truck just made so much more sense than a coupe.

A few months later, the Firebird was traded for a lease on a new 2001 Sierra. I’ve had trucks, new and used, ever since. Sure, I could hitch a trailer to the wife’s Odyssey, but then my truck always has a trailer attached to it. It’s called a bed. If I want to go buy an $800 elliptical machine that some guy is giving away for $40 on Craigslist in an attempt to screw over his ex- wife, I can just hop in my truck and have it loaded it up before the other vultures, who had to attach their trailers or beg a pickup, get there. If my brother needs me to haul a load of mulch (and Black Widow spiders, belatedly discovered after we had spent about thirty minutes shoveling said mulch out of the bed) for him to his rental properties, I can do it. A truck of my own simply represents freedom better than my low- slung, totally impractical Camaro.

2003 Chevrolet S-10 LS.

A couple of years ago I let my daughter drive in a field for the first time. Coincidentally, her first time behind the wheel was also in a blue Chevrolet pickup truck. In another couple of years, she’ll get her permit and I plan to make her learn the basics of car control in my Silverado so that she’ll never be intimidated by large vehicles. Kids today don’t cruise the way my friends and I used to, gas prices and graduated driver’s licenses being what they are. It’s just as well. I can’t imagine letting her go riding around at the age of 14 the way I did. But if she ever has the opportunity, I just have to ask her to do one thing for me:

Don’t ride in the back of any pickup trucks. It will simply kill your father.

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Cop Reviews Cop Car: 2013 Ford Police Interceptor Sedan Taurus Mon, 11 Mar 2013 13:02:52 +0000 The Queen is dead and police departments across the nation have spent the last year searching for a worthy replacement for the old girl. My department has been a Ford department for decades. So long, in fact, that the mechanics at the municipal garage have been trained and certified as Ford specialists. Despite concerns about the reliability of FWD when it comes to taking the abuse of patrol work, there was never any real question as to whether or not we would give the new Ford Police Interceptor Sedan a try and …

I’m sorry. I can’t finish the rest of this review using the phrase “Ford Police Interceptor Sedan.” I’ve never heard another cop call his car a “Police Interceptor.” The CVPI was always a “Crown Vic,” even after Ford dropped the homage to Her Majesty from the trunklid. The new car is a Taurus.

After a brief orientation, I was allowed to back a new Taurus out of the Technical Services garage for my road test. It was the equivalent of learning to swim by being tossed into the deep end of the pool. It forced me to immediately confront one of the car’s biggest shortcomings. The view out of the rear window is terrible, possibly the worst of any car I have ever driven.

Ford offers a rearview camera, which my department took at a fleet bid price of $240.  It’s cheaper than the audible alert system at $295. Municipal bean counters are encouraged to pony up for one or the other. The extra cost will pay off in the avoidance of all of the minor fender benders that will undoubtedly occur if officers are left to fend for themselves.

My department also purchased the BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) which also helps compensate for the Taurus’s lack of visibility in return for $475 of the taxpayer’s dollars. BLIS should be helpful while making emergency runs, provided that officers don’t become too dependent on it.

I retrieved my gun-belt in order to better simulate the experience of uniformed officers. When I got back in I was faced with the Taurus’s second noticeable flaw as a police vehicle: It’s too small for a man of… comfortable proportions.

Actually, that’s not exactly right. First of all, I’m hefty but I’m nowhere near the biggest guy at my department. In most respects the Taurus has plenty of room. The seat adjusts six ways from Sunday. The steering wheel telescopes in addition to tilting, a huge improvement over the Crown Vic. The Taurus also includes adjustable pedals. Headroom was fine and I didn’t feel crowded to my left by the door.

The problem was to my right. I’m right handed, as is most of the population. My holster was pressed against the seat-belt latch, which was in turn pressed tight against the metal side of the aftermarket console that contains the police radios and switch gear for the lights and siren. The pressure forced the end of my holster, which is an unforgiving lump of high- impact plastic, to dig into my leg.

This situation exists because Ford won’t admit the obvious. Their brochures claim that the Taurus has the same amount of space between the seats (nine inches) as the outgoing Crown Vic. Potential buyers are told that old consoles and equipment will be a direct fit, enabling cash- strapped departments to save money by recycling equipment.

Unfortunately the Taurus really doesn’t have nine inches to spare. The internal width from door panel to door panel is four inches less than in the Crown Vic. You can’t lose that much overall lateral space and then waste nine inches in the center of the car. Something’s got to give and unfortunately what gives is my sciatic nerve.

The fix would be relatively easy. The aftermarket needs to develop a console package that is seven inches wide instead of nine. The extra inch gained on each side would make all the difference in the world. It could even remain nine inches wide in front of the seats to accommodate equipment so long as it tapered down before it reached the seat-belt latch. Whether the market will respond remains to be seen and for now the vendors are only building too- large consoles built to Ford’s specifications.

Other than the pain in my leg, the driving experience was fine. Handling and braking felt much better than in the Crown Vic. Ford pushes the AWD system as a standard option, although they will give customers a $650 credit if they choose to special order a FWD car instead. The use of an actual column mounted shifter is a nice touch, especially compared to the fake column shifter mounted on the dash in a police- package Dodge Charger.

The car I drove had the standard 3.5L V-6. It growled when prodded instead of delivering its power with the muted roar of the Crown Vic’s V-8. The base engine has more than enough grunt for a police car, with a top speed of 131 mph according to testing by the Michigan State Police as opposed to the 150 mph top speed of the Ecoboost turbo version.

Performance measures are interesting but real life isn’t television. Most beat cops spend less than fifteen minutes out of an average eight hour shift running with lights and sirens. The rest of the time a police car is just a car, driven at normal speeds to the next report call, rolled slowly through dark alleys, and left idling for hours at a time. Fuel economy is more important these days than power and the standard powertrain strikes a good balance between the two.  A top end of 130 mph is more than sufficient. Anything more is just asking for trouble in these litigious times.

The stereo sounded fine for a base factory unit. SYNC is a $295 option, and one that my department didn’t spring for. I doubt that many municipalities will, but it’s the only way to get a 3.5 mm AUX jack. That’s a bit irritating. A patrol car is a cop’s home away from home for 40+ hours each week. An AUX jack is a quick and easy way to enjoy satellite radio or listen to an iPod. Yes, the total integration of these features through something like SYNC is desirable to Ford’s civilian customers, but simple solutions are best when dealing with fleet vehicles. A CD player is standard.

As I got out to take some pictures of the car, I noticed another problem: the front doors only open to a little over 45 degrees. A nylon retaining strap prevents them from opening any further. According to the brochure, this is to “help them swing out just right in the rush of a moment.”  The restricted opening of the front doors wasn’t as much of a problem when entering the car as it was on exit. Unfortunately, fast exits are often required from a police vehicle and attempts to exit quickly through the tight opening while wearing my gunbelt resulted in me banging my various pieces of equipment on the door frame and edge of the door.

By contrast, the rear doors open to almost 90 degrees. That would be great for loading a prisoner in the back, except that the minimal amount of legroom left over after a barrier is installed would probably qualify as a cruel and unusual punishment.  The aftermarket has responded with a sort of dogleg shaped barrier that is designed to be placed so that the driver’s seat can have full range of travel while bending in a manner that limits the front passenger seat’s travel, but allows more foot room in the rear passenger side for a prisoner’s legs. This solution will work if only one prisoner is transported at a time.

Perhaps a second prisoner can ride in the trunk. (I’m kidding.) A full- size spare hides under a flat panel, giving the Taurus a flat load floor that extends all the way to the rear seat. An optional sliding tray for mounting radio repeaters and other equipment keeps those vital and relatively fragile pieces tucked up under the rear decklid where they won’t be damaged by officers tossing heavier equipment on top of them.

I took a moment to sit behind the wheel of a marked Crown Vic after I returned to the garage. It felt enormous after the Taurus. I asked a technician how much of the equipment, besides peripherals like radios and flashlight chargers, could actually be switched between the old and new cars. He thought about it for minute.

“The lightbars are the same,” he replied. “But you have to get different brackets for the new cars.”

And the consoles? Nope. They’re too different. The Tauruses have to get brand new ones anyway.

So what’s my final verdict? I think that the engineers charged with turning the civilian Taurus into a police car did a good job, given the platform that they had to work with. Fleet pricing for the models purchased by my department comes to $26,659, which seems reasonable. (Additional equipment, such the new consoles that Ford claims we don’t have to buy, runs the tab up quite a bit higher.) Handling and fuel economy are far superior to the Vic. The power from the base V-6 is better than the old V-8. Departments above the Mason- Dixon line will definitely appreciate the AWD.

But problems and limitations abound. Some of them, such as the atrocious view out of the back window and the tight space for prisoners in the back, are inherent to the design of the car itself. They can be overcome with technology, but at a price. Some of them are simply inexplicable, like the narrow opening front doors. Law enforcement can’t possibly be losing that many driver’s side doors to oncoming traffic to justify limiting the door’s travel as much as the strap does.

But the most severe limitations come from Ford’s refusal to admit that the Taurus is what it is: a smaller car than the Crown Vic. You can insist that everyone call your Taurus a Ford Police Interceptor Sedan, but that doesn’t mean that the laws of physics will play along with the charade. There’s no excuse for Ford’s failure to admit that a nine inch console won’t fit into the Taurus without intruding into passenger space and working with the aftermarket to develop a narrower alternative that works.

The Crown Vic came to dominate the police market because its rivals forfeited the field. Both Dodge and Chevrolet are back in the game now and they should smell blood in the water. The Ford Police Interceptor Sedan has a lot of strengths, but Ford’s failure to admit its weaknesses and engineer better solutions to them will hurt its market position as the other cars are given chances by more agencies to prove their reliability.

David Hester is a detective with the Lexington, KY Police Department by day and night. He drove a Crown Vic for work, but “does not suffer from an overabundance of Panther love.” 


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Night Flight Of The Silver Ghost. An On Request Future Writer Story Mon, 25 Feb 2013 06:00:28 +0000

Some claimed yesterday that David Hester’s views of a government-issued Panther are more desired than his discussion of D.I.Y. engine mods. You ask for it, you get it today. How’s that for service? Also, be judicious with your comments about his prose. David may be a rookie writer, but he’s a seasoned cop, and he knows where to find you. In any case, I’ve seen a few police reports in the past, and Dave’s way with words definitely beats them all.

My cellphone begins to bleat a mere three hours after my head hit the pillow. I shake the cobwebs from my head and listen to an excitable 3rd shift sergeant inform me of a criminal act requiring the immediate attention of the Special Victims Section detective, yes, pronto, never mind the pre-dawn hours. Quick shave. Quick shower. Quick peck on the cheek of my sleeping wife. Then out into the cold for the forty minute drive from my home into the sleeping city.

My G-ride awaits, a 2007 Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptor in “Official Government Business” silver. My department assigns each officer a home-fleet vehicle and I’ve been driving this one for a little over 40,000 of its 89,000 miles. One of the last of the real Police Interceptors, it boasts the civilian interior upgrade, with mouse-fur covered cloth bench seats instead of vinyl, carpeting instead of vomit resistant rubber, and a CD player. However, in a surprise outbreak of fiscal prudence, whoever ordered the cars that year failed to check the box for the exterior upgrades, like chrome trim. It’s the best of both worlds: soft semi-luxury inside with the blacked out “move to the right” front grill.

It takes about 10 minutes to reach I-75 from my driveway. I accelerate down the entrance ramp onto the empty interstate and settle into the left lane at… a reasonable and prudent speed. The big Ford loafs, eating up the miles without drama, solid as the day it rolled off of the assembly line. The only other vehicles I pass are 18 wheelers, their drivers probably wired to the gills on coffee, No-Doz, maybe meth. All of them are on high alert, scanning the road ahead and behind for the Crown Vic’s distinctive headlight pattern in their mirrors. Tonight their vigilance is rewarded: there is a Bear out there and I spy more than a few quick flashes of brake lights, even though none of them are in my lane and I subsequently couldn’t care less about the lies in their log books.

As I approach the bridge that crosses the river separating my quiet, rural home county from the urban jungle I work in, traffic is picking up a little bit. Not much, but there’s four-wheeled traffic mixed in with the truck traffic, and as I cross the bridge I can see a few lingering in the leftmost lane. The police radio goes on as I enter my jurisdiction and I start the light show a few seconds later.

The disco lights do the job. The left lane bandits are shaken out of their trances and slide into the center or rightmost lane well before I arrive. There’s no need for the vulgarity of the siren, which would interrupt Sinatra’s request for one more for his baby and one more for the road. I reach my exit and the lights go off, rendering me all but invisible to the traffic rolling on beyond. The city is beginning to stir, with lights coming on as shop owners prepare for the first customers. Joggers are out, as are paper delivery… men. I don’t suppose there have actually been paper delivery boys for decades.

I pull up at the emergency room and park in the ambulance bay. There will be at least an hour of waiting until the victim is cleared by the doctors, followed by another hour of interviews. Sometimes the case will be legitimate. Those are draining, especially if it involves a child. More often the case will be a case of regret, an attempt to cover up infidelity, or even a dispute over prostitution services rendered. Those cases will be unfounded, pended and forgotten in short order, sometimes with false report charges against the “victim,” but usually not. I suppose that’s for the best. A city in which every rape report was legitimate would be a horribly dangerous place to live.

The sun is up by the time I finish the interviews, and I roll on into the office to get an early jump on my shift. The day will drag by. Maybe there will be a suspect to find in regards to the new case, maybe not. By the time the day is over, the paperwork, at least, will be in order. I’ll mount back up and drive back across the river, feeling the weight of the case and the responsibility of the job disappear as the Crown Vic’s wheels thump across the last expansion joint. Dinner awaits, perhaps a beer or two, and then a good night’s sleep. It will be another twelve days until I have to cover the on-call schedule for the unit again.

Another twelve days before another night flight.

David Hester is a detective with the Lexington, KY Police Department by day and night. He drove a Crown Vic for work, but “does not suffer from an overabundance of Panther love.” David is a Editor’s Choice Future TTAC Writer, just in case we ever drive through Lexington, KY.

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The Airbox Of Lies. A Future Writer Story Sat, 23 Feb 2013 14:05:20 +0000

10 horses more, promise

It began as most projects do: with the triumph of Hope over Experience. I have a 2002 Camaro SS. One of the easier modifications is the installation of an aftermarket airbox lid from SLP. It has a smooth interior that reduces turbulence and shoves more air into the engine, resulting in more power and noise, or so it says. The SLP also comes with a cool K&N sticker, hence it must be good for at least 10 extra horses.

SLP’s website promised a “15 minute” installation time. I knew that was nonsense. I figured it would take an hour. What follows is a blow- by- blow account of how Hope snuck up behind Experience and slugged him with a sock full of nickels.

Typical 15 minute job

12:50 PM: I take the Camaro for a shakedown run so that I can make an accurate “seat o’ the pants” comparison later and get to work. SLP’s 15 minute installation time goes out the window when I spend 10 minutes looking for my ratcheting box end wrench to loosen the battery’s negative terminal before giving up and breaking out my socket wrench set. Still, the rest of the teardown goes easily enough. Soon I’m left with the air intake duct resonator which has the Mass Air Flow sensor (MAF) attached to the rear and the intake air temperature (IAT) sensor mounted slightly above it. Both of these parts have to be reused on the SLP lid. I grab the MAF with one hand, the resonator with the other, and pull. Nothing happens.

1:35 PM: Ten minutes of brute strength accomplishes nothing. Time to work smarter, not harder. Give me a lever and a place to stand and I shall remove my MAF from my restrictive factory resonator… provided I can work a screw driver between them. I can’t. I grab a hammer, but hesitate. One of the original grease pencil slashes from the final assembly line inspection stares back at me. I can probably hit the plastic resonator gently enough to free the MAF without damaging it, but should I? Contemplation is required, as is hydration. Have I really been out here for almost an hour?

2:10 PM: My break is over, as are another 15 minutes of the futile application of brute strength and profanity. Enough sentimentality. I grab the MAF with my left hand and swing the hammer. Two blows and the resonator falls to the floor.

2:15 PM: The IAT sensor is held by a rubber grommet. I pull on it. Nothing happens. I retrieve the screwdriver and start to work the grommet through from the inside. One slip and- sonofaBITCH!- I stab myself in the palm of my left hand. Back in the house for antiseptic. How long has it been since I got a tetanus shot?

2:30 PM: I go back to working the grommet carefully with the screwdriver. It finally pops free. I pick up the MAF sensor assembly and try to push it into the SLP lid. Nothing happens.

2:45 PM: SLP can’t be serious. The diameter of the airlid’s neck is three millimeters smaller than the circumference of the MAF. Brute force and profanity are even more useless than they were when I was trying to get the damn thing off. The instructions suggest using a hairdryer to heat the plastic up in order to make the assembly process easier. I go inside to get hers. My wife looks at me askance and asks how much longer I’m going to be in the garage.

3:30 PM: I sit on the floor of the garage, seething at the two lumps of evil that have mocked my attempts to mate them for the last hour. I have heated up the infernal plastic airlid multiple times to no discernible effect. Each time nothing. I hate MAF sensors, my Camaro, and the jack wagon who decided to advertise this tour of Hell as a 15 minute install.

3:35 PM: The neck is simply too small. I retrieve my rotary tool, warranty be damned. This project must be completed or let no man come back alive. Plastic dust fills the air. Maybe I can apply for black lung benefits.

3:55 PM: Several turns of polishing with the rotary tool, followed by obsessive- compulsive wiping of the inside of the lid to eliminate any stray bits of plastic, and the edge of the MAF barely fits. I heat up the plastic for 10 minutes before I start to shove it home. It starts in, but I put too much pressure on one side and it suddenly slips in too deep. Somehow I have managed to cross- thread the MAF into the airlid.

4:05 PM: Once again the right tool for the job turns out to be a hammer. The problem is that this time I will have to strike the MAF assembly itself instead of the plastic airlid. I find my rubber mallet. One swing knocks the pieces loose. I line up the MAF with the airlid and drive it into the neck as carefully as I can. When I finish the MAF is rotated about 90 degrees from being centered correctly at the top of the airlid so that I can plug it back in and it won’t turn by hand. I persuade it with the mallet while accusing it of the vilest forms of incest. It turns about three degrees with every blow. Eventually I have it straight enough for government work.

4:15 PM: Finally, the installation proceeds without much further delay, although just buttoning everything up takes longer than the advertised 15 minutes. How many times can you hit a MAF sensor assembly before it starts throwing codes? At least one more time than I did, because everything works with no idiot lights flashing on the dash.

Sounds more powerful

Time for a test drive. SLP claims a gain of 10 RWHP with the lid. It passes the seat o’ the pants test, for whatever that’s worth. What is definitely noticeable is the noise. I nail the throttle and the LS1 roars. I wasn’t expecting such a change in tone without an exhaust swap, but there’s no denying it. It just sounds meaner.

I feel a wide grin creeping across my face. That’s why I bought this car: It can make me smile. I’m already forgetting the frustrations of the last three hours, the way a mother forgets her labor pains when she holds her firstborn child. I pull into my driveway with a single thought coursing through my brain:

“I better bring that hairdryer back… ”

David Hester is a detective with the Lexington, KY Police Department by day and night. He drove a Crown Vic for work, but “does not suffer from an overabundance of Panther love.” David is a Editor’s Choice Future TTAC Writer, just in case we ever driver through Lexington, KY.

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