Jolly Coppers On Parade: Cops Cruising on the Taxpayers’ Dime

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Have you ever noticed how many police there are at car cruise events? I first noticed this at the Woodward Dream Cruise a few years ago. Now, with a crowd of a million people along with 40,000 special interest cars, some being driven by folks eager to burn rubber, I can understand the need for some law enforcement officers to police a crowd that large but it seems to me that the police presence at the Dream Cruise has always been a bit over the top. Crowds of a half million or more are not uncommon in the Detroit area, with that many or more people annually watching the big Freedom Festival fireworks celebrating the Fourth of July in the US and Dominion Day across the river in Canada. Similarly large crowds show up for the Thanksgiving Day parade, and when the Gold Cup hydroplane races take place on the Detroit River. As many as two million people have celebrated Red Wings’ Stanley Cup and Pistons’ NBA championships. You never see as many cops at those events as you do during the Dream Cruise. It’s almost as though police use car events to get paid overtime while they cruise at taxpayers’ expense.

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Every city on the Dream Cruise route has every LEO on their payroll working the Cruise, at the cost of considerable overtime. Mobile command posts are erected up and down the Cruise route. It’s not just local police from cities on the route that work the Dream Cruise, though. Under “mutual aid pacts” between the many small suburbs that surround the city of Detroit, it seems that every motorcycle cop in southeastern Michigan is on Woodward, ostensibly because additional manpower is needed to police the crowd. Motorcycle cops from cities (and colleges) nowhere near Woodward Ave. patrol the boulevard in packs of 4, 6, 8 and sometimes as many as 20 police Harleys. I said ostensibly because if the reason for all those cops is a need for manpower to police a large crowd, one would think that they’d deploy motorcycle cops in pairs, so as to be able to cover a much larger area with the same manpower. You almost never see a pair of motorcycle cops at the Dream Cruise. It’s always a pack of 4 or more.

Police motorcycles at the Woodward Dream Cruise

What’s obvious is that it’s not about a need for manpower but rather a perk for the police officers. They do a little police work and crowd control while getting paid to cruise on the taxpayers’ dime. They get to strut their stuff and show off their crisp uniforms and those spiffy knee high leather boots. Nothing like a black leather boot to show civilians just who is in charge. They also get to show off their bikes. Or rather, the bikes that taxpayers buy for them to ride while they work for us.

And not just bikes. While a 1976 9C1 Chevy Nova is on my lottery list (a four door Z/28 with a body stiffer than the Camaro), cops love to show off high performance police cars. The Michigan State Police get a lot of publicity out of their annual testing of new police vehicles. Enthusiast web sites (including this one) and magazines cover that testing and those vehicles. I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable, however, about how excited car enthusiasts get over specially equipped police vehicles. Those vehicles run the gamut from plain vanilla sedans to military armored personnel carriers to exotic supercars. You can find photos of all sorts of high end sports cars like Z06 Corvettes, Lamborghinis and Lotuses in police livery – either as a publicity stunt by a car company, a police department, or both.

Sometimes those are cars seized in criminal investigations. Without getting into the abuse and corruption of the seizure process by police and prosecutors, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the police using some else’s ill gotten sports car to chase down irresponsible drivers, though in reality they’ll more likely be used for revenue enhancement, like much cop equipment. At least the taxpayers didn’t pay for those cars. Most cop cars are, of course, paid for by taxpayers. I’m not sure which bothers me more, you and I buying police officers cars that are not available to the general public, like the new PPV Caprice, or buying them desirable high performance cars intended for retail sale that so the police can use them as unmarked traffic enforcement cars and give us tickets that pay for their overtime and high performance toys that they use to give out more tickets. This brings to mind perpetual motion machines and Ponzi schemes.

PPV Caprice

Though Chrysler’s been trumpeting the success of the new Dodge Charger Pursuit in the Michigan State Police tests of the current cop car offerings from the Big 3, supposedly outperforming Ford’s Taurus SHO based Police Interceptor and the aforementioned PPV Caprice, Chrysler has been much quieter concerning police versions of the Charger’s platform mate, the two door Dodge Challenger. The Chrysler fleet website has an extensive section devoted to the Charger Pursuit but no information at all about the Challenger, though it’s clear that police departments can order that car with pursuit equipment.

Ford Police Interceptor

Broward County Florida made a fuss when they took delivery of their 2010 Challenger based police cars, in both regular black and white livery and unmarked units with ghost police graphics, for “aggressive driving enforcement“. Police agencies a bit closer to the Motor City are also using unmarked Challengers.

Dodge Charger Pursuit

A few weeks ago there was the inaugural Cruisin’ Hines event in Hines Park in western Wayne County, outside of Detroit. The organizers got Westland and the county to close Hines Drive to vehicles not registered in the cruise. This meant there weren’t any minivans clogging up Hines Drive and people got to see the cars in motion, driving about 25-30 mph. There were police there, manning the barricades, but there was also a heavy police presence on the cruise itself. I’m not sure just why. The cars were not burning rubber or driving recklessly. Nobody was speeding, most of the cars seemed to be going about 25 mph.

While processing video from the event, I noticed that at one point, police cruisers passed by my camera tripod three times in less than five minutes. You can see them in the video above. There were also unmarked cars on patrol.

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One Wayne County Sheriff’s deputy had pulled his unmarked police HEMI powered Challenger R/T  to the side of Hines Drive and was talking cars with some of the folks watching the cruise. He was talking about how powerful the HEMI was and that once, when accelerating onto a freeway, he looked down at the speedo and was surprised to see that he was doing 120 mph.

The car was a full tilt HEMI R/T, complete with two red stripes and R/T decals on each front fender, unmarked, except for “Sheriff” in small letters on the front bumper.  I’m sure the sheriff’s department thinks it’s clever to have had blue and red strobe lights hidden in the Challenger’s faux hood scoops. Like many vehicles driven by public employees, the Challenger was wasting gasoline bought by taxpayers, with the engine running, idling at the side of the road as the deputy stood nearby and shmoozed with members of the public.

When I suggested that he was wasting gas, he replied by saying, “I never shut off my car if I can help it”. I didn’t want get arrested for contempt of cop so I dropped it, but I’m sure that if I’d pressed the matter, the deputy would have said something about needing to leave in a hurry in case of emergency. That’s the excuse cops give me when I ask them about illegally parking in fire lanes while they stop at a restaurant or donut shop to get food. I’m pretty sure the deputy would have said that he had to leave the engine running in case of emergency. Right, while he was standing outside his car, at the side of the road bragging to members of the public how fast ‘his’ car was.

Just because we refer to police cars as “cruisers” doesn’t mean that cruising in some hot car is part of police officers’ job description.

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