Law & Order – 2012 Police Vehicle Design Competition


The results of this year’s police vehicle marking design competition have been published by Law & Order magazine. I think this competition is a great idea and it brings together a wide cross-section of police vehicles from all over the United States. EMS could well do with a similar contest. The article opens with the following paragraph: Law & Order

“First and foremost, a police vehicle’s design should be about safety and identification. Agencies’ designs have also begun incorporating state, county and regional symbols, mission statements and mottos to represent the communities they serve.”

Unfortunately despite their best intentions, just about all of the winning layouts except the Best Rear Warning from North Richland Hills Police Department completely missed the safety and visibility goals. While black & white vehicles abound, some of the cars are obviously intended to be public relations or awareness vehicles used away from emergent response. However most vehicles shown continue to be actively used for working patrols. The difference between “high-visibility community awareness” has once again become confused with “high-visibility safety markings.” Significantly, the competition has drifted away from officer safety in vehicles to one of agency billboard design with visually confusing marking layouts.

The excerpt reprinted below describes how the judges arrived at their decision. The use of reflective symbols, text, badging and website addresses does not always add up to effective day and night conspicuity. Oversized badges, text or complex designs can easily become visual clutter which often confuse the vehicle form rather than enhancing the visual profile –  see the article  On Reflection, Thinking outside the box

“The 2012 Vehicle Design judges focused on the safety of the officer driving and the ability to identify the automobile as a law enforcement vehicle. The overall appearance of the vehicle was, of course, factored into the results. The judges looked for departmental symbols, names in easy-to-read lettering, a badge, shield or community seal, emergency phone numbers and websites. For visibility, the judges looked for reflective tape/graphics and decals.”

Despite the poor showing for visibility and conspicuity, I still support the competition as it grows in size with every passing year (500+ entries this year). The 2013 competition is now open and I note that the magazine is accepting nominations from international police agencies.

Perhaps the New South Wales police might even enter their latest designer Highway Patrol car in the event! You can see their new vehicle markings in the You Tube video below where the car is described in the opening discussion as “high visibility.”

The NSW cars join a long tradition of Australian highway patrol cars marked-up in camouflaging “boy racer” style markings displaying huge police logos and flowing checkered patterns.

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About John Killeen (Ambulance Visibility)

John Killeen is an Intensive Care Paramedic who authors the Ambulance Visibility research website & blog
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