Police Life Hacks

Every officer I know had a few little secrets they used to keep life living in a squad car bearable. You know those little things that made living for eight-plus hours a day in a car possible. Perhaps it was a travel mug for your coffee that saved you from a scalded lap on several occasions. Maybe you found special clipboard or range bag that made your life a little more organized. For some it was a vented seat that made those hot summer days possible.

If you have your own squad that you don’t share with the next watch it simplifies things. You can customize your compartment to meet your needs rather easy. If you are handing over your squad to another crew at the end of the watch you need to have everything removable. If you never know what car you will be working the next tour you need to simplify things even further.

In 1983 when I started the front seats were rather barren. We had nothing. No computer, no radio (police or personal). There were no cup holders and there were no ashtrays or cigarette lighters once the vehicle had achieved a certain age. All you had were hot vinyl seats.

We wore a police radio on our belts so there was none in the car. There was only the MARS control box for lights and siren and the PA. We discovered that we could rubber band a small AM/FM radio to the MARS box. Some worked well some never received a good signal. At least you got the weather and a ball game in-between calls.

Cup holders were always a problem. The plastic ones that hung on your door never worked well. You were either knocking them off or breaking them. I ended up taking a piece of 2×4 about a foot long. I drilled a two-inch hole at each end almost all the way through. If you had a split bench seat you could put the wood block on the trans hump and then wedge it down and hold it in place with your baton between the seats. It worked well for about eight years.

I carried a leather ticket book and kept it closed with a Velcro strap. Moreover, I found that if I used a longer strap I could strap my cup holder block to the book and move it between shifts with ease.

I remember a wagon crew that built a large wooden box for the seat. It had cup holders built in as well as a large flat top that worked as a writing surface and dining table. The lid was hinged and they kept all the reports inside that they might need. Since the same people worked the wagon on all the shifts, for the most part, they kept the box in the vehicle’s cab.

As I’m sure you all have experience blood stains on your uniform shirts. Whether from wrestling with a drunk or aiding a battered wife you are bound to get some on your shirt. I had the front of my shirt red with blood from an auto crash victim’s head wound and imagined that my shirt was ruined. A nurse at the E/R handed me a bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide and said, “Here, for your shirt.” When I said, “Huh,” she told me that is what all the E/R nurses use to get rid of blood on their scrubs. That night when I got home I soaked the shirt in the Hydrogen Peroxide. The blood bubbled up and rinsed right out. The color didn’t fade out at all. Since then I always keep a bottle of it handy.

Squad cars today don’t offer you the free space in the front like we had. You must be much more creative to work with all the radios and computers you share the front seat with. You officers, who work in more rural areas need more equipment then urban officers since no one can respond with what you need. Your back up could be hours away not minutes. If it starts to rain you can’t run into the station and grab your raincoat. You better have it with you. Sadly, it looks like you have less and less room to use. So, what do you do to make your tour of duty more comfortable? How do you make that front seat less painful?

If you work in a large metropolitan area you’ll find many places open 24 hours where you can get a meal. If you work in a small town or suburban area that might not be the case. I spent eight years in a Chicago district that had no place for an officer to grab a bite to eat on midnights. A lot of people brought something to eat from home others learned to eat microwaved burritos from a 7-11.

I’m sure the female officers have a few great ideas. They’ve had to make do with men’s holsters and equipment for decades so they learned to modify and adjust things to suit them better. So, ladies how have you made your work environment suit you better?

Please comment below and let us know your little police life hacks. Share with us how you make your tour of duty more comfortable.

Robert Weisskopf is a retired Chicago police lieutenant. In thirty years, he rose from police officer to sergeant, to lieutenant, serving every role in patrol with 18 months detailed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development leading a team for narcotics enforcement. He became a member of the Lieutenants Union and served as its’ president for six years negotiating two contracts. He also served as vice president of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association. He’s a divorced father with three sons.

(Photo courtesy Robert Weisskopf)