No Fixed Abode: Why Be a Wacker?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
no fixed abode why be a wacker

It’s one of the great scenes in modern cinema: Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness and Sean Connery as Malone, the beat cop who requires no proof of Eliot’s claim to be a Treasury Agent because, “Who would claim to be that, who was not?”

Yet there are people who falsely claim to be police, for various and nefarious purposes ranging from to getting a discount on lunch to raping 11 women. This kind of offense is punished with all possible severity, and for the most understandable of reasons: a society where we cannot easily recognize police is a society where enforcement of the law will become increasingly dangerous for all parties involved.

Then you have the crowd that doesn’t want to actually impersonate a cop; rather, they simply want to be briefly “mistaken” for a cop on the freeway, often for no reason other than the petty narcissism of believing they are frightening or impressing fellow motorists. As you’d expect, these people gravitate towards used police cars, which they often retrofit to vaguely resemble undercover or unmarked units. It’s a common enough practice that the Internet has coined a word to define the practitioner: “Wacker.”

Wacking, like any other hobby, is pursued with various degrees of proficiency. The rusted-out 1990s Crown Vic with a drooping spotlight and mismatched tires is the preferred choice of people who are wavering between true wacker status and merely being a broke-ass dude behind the wheel of a blacked-out taxi.

The nearly new Chevrolet Caprice in the photo above, however, represents the apex of wacking, right down to the brand-new and freshly Armor-Alled Michelin Pilot Sport A/S tires. When I saw it on my afternoon commute today, I wasn’t fooled for long, as my little town of Powell, Ohio doesn’t have any unmarked or quasi-undercover units on the street. We also don’t require real license plates on municipal vehicles, meaning that the presence of a legit tag is a dead wacker giveaway. In some states, however, the only way to tell the difference between this and a real freeway speed enforcement unit would be to pull over and wait until the driver gets out.

The flood of used Crown Vics hitting the market as of late means that it’s never been easier to start wacking. The question is: Why do it? And what kind of person heeds that police-siren song?

Back in the days when I owned a Town Car, I strongly considered the purchase of an ex-police Crown Vic to use as a tire hauler and general dirty jobs vehicle. After a day or so looking through the CrownVic forums I realized that some people simply can’t help themselves when it comes to “wacker” modifications. Light bars in whatever color isn’t illegal for your particular state, train horns, limo tint on all the windows — some people even go through the trouble of sourcing the “Police Interceptor” badges for cars that didn’t have them. It caused me to give no small amount of thought to why someone would want to do that.

I think the most frequent, and most compelling reason, to be a wacker is this: It doesn’t take too many years on the American road to become utterly exasperated at the people with whom you have to share it. There’s always somebody ahead of you doing 10 mph under the speed limit and somebody screaming up behind you doing Mach 1.2 and somebody next to you who is half in your lane because they’re browsing Instagram. It’s hugely tempting to come up with some kind of solution, however imperfect, to the brimming surfeit of on-road discourtesy out there.

Some people buy massive trucks to insulate themselves from the stupidity. Others spend outrageous money so they have the power to drive away from anyone who is annoying them. But these are partial solutions at best. The real fix to the problem would be to come up with a vehicle that spontaneously generates respectful behavior from the drivers around you. Like it or not, a wackermobile can do precisely that.

If you have a wacker that really skirts the boundary between “ex-cop car” and “current cop car,” you can enjoy a myriad of benefits. That jerk in the lifted truck or 5 Series BMW swerving through traffic behind you? When he spots the Wack Job, he’s going to suddenly remember that he’s not in that big of a hurry. The vegan hippie in the Forester doing 54 in the fast lane? She’s going to move over once she looks in the rearview — which could be as soon as 10 minutes from now. All around you, people will put down their phones, turn down their stoplight stereos, call a halt to the last-minute cut-ins and cut-offs. All of a sudden, you’re living in the world of the driver’s-ed videos, surrounded by careful, attentive fellow drivers.

Eventually most of them will realize that you’re not a cop, and they will resume speeding/weaving/whatever. In the meantime, however, you’re safe and sound. And it’s better to have that Jersey-plated bully floor the throttle and drive away than it would have been had he just blown by you at a lightly-wobbling buck-oh-five. It’s a real pleasure to be a wacker, you see. No set of fender-mounted diplomatic flags ever generated the kind of respect that an even vaguely convincing wack job does.

There are drawbacks. Decent people will shun your acquaintance. Your Tinder dates will come to a screeching halt when the lady in question sees your car. Since this is America and not Europe, you don’t have wacking options from Bavaria or Stuttgart or even Castle Bromwich. And your interactions with actual cops will always start off on the wrong foot, the degree of wrongness strongly correlating to the degree to which your Crown Vic or Caprice or Explorer looks like the real deal. It might be too much trouble. Your mileage may vary.

Overall, however, I’m not sure that wacking is all that bad of a thing. Having a bunch of maybe-kinda-sorta-cop-cars around might raise the pulse of habitual speeders but it’s probably better for road safety as a whole. The question is: Could we turn this occasional phenomenon into an everyday occurrence, in a way that doesn’t endanger or upset anyone? I’m glad you asked.

It’s this simple: The era of dedicated police cars needs to come to an end. The era of butched-up police cruisers, complete with shadow graphics and bully bars, should be terminated with extreme prejudice as well. Instead, cops should just drive plain-Jane cars and SUVs. Camry. Explorer. CR-V. Cop cars should look like regular cars. We would all behave better as a result. Is that RAV4 behind you a soccer mom or a county mountie? You’d better pay attention to the road just in case. There would be no losers in this scenario.

Well, that’s not true. I don’t think today’s wackers would like it too much. Not that any of them would admit to it. Who would claim to be a wacker — even if such were the case?

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2 of 103 comments
  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Nov 22, 2017

    As far as I know, in Michigan, even unmarked police cars have to wear municipal license plates, so as long as you're behind them, you can spot them. One problem with current police vehicles, at least for drivers who don't want attention from Johnny Law, is that Ford offers the Explorer in trims and colors that are hard to distinguish from their Police Interceptor versions.

  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Nov 22, 2017

    I once met a guy who was the classic cop wanna be. Had a Crown Vic, traded in on a Charger. He was arrogant and so full of himself. Wanted to hang out and get to know each other. Nahh, I'm cool man, I got to know enough that I don't want to know anymore. No thanks.

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