A NEW LOOK TO AN OLD FRIEND

A NEW LOOK TO AN OLD FRIEND
There was a time when a city police department could have a fleet of cars featuring any colors they wished.

As long as those colors were black and white.

North American police cars were once noted for those two contrasting exterior tones of color.


As police vehicles became a mainstay in the United States, most of them were a solid color. In an effort to stand out from the general civilian car, many departments utilized a black car and simply added a white stripe. Ford started making extra-durable police package cars in 1950, and the black and white paint scheme soon followed.

By the1960s, black-and-whites were everywhere, further mythologized by TV police shows like Adam 12 and Andy Griffith.

In recent years, that has all changed. Drive from one community to the next, and it's not uncommon to see police cars sporting a variety of solid colors and markings.

In recent years, the Vermillion Police Department's fleet of patrol cars has sported a solid metallic silver exterior, with blue lettering on the side.

All of that is in the process of changing. What was once old is new again to the local department, as black and white is being introduced once again as the standard exterior shades of Vermillion's police cars.

The local department just replaced two of its patrol cars this year, and it has opted to go back to a more traditional black and white exterior on the two new Ford Crown Victoria police interceptor models.

The two cars are both being used by officers now. Citizens no doubt momentarily think they've stepped back in time as the black and whites cruise by.

Police Chief Art Mabry believes patrol cars in recent years shed the black and white look as a way of trying to blend on community streets.

"The black and white just had sort of an authority presence to it, and so you started seeing all sorts of colors, and all sorts of designs on them," he said, "to the point that it became confusing as to what you could expect a police car to look like."

Mabry believes the black and white cars will make local police more visible, and will serve to assist in community policing.

"When an officer is stopped at the side of the road, people see that black and white color scheme, and there's no doubt in their mind it's a police cruiser," he said.

The return to black and white police cars is part of national trend that's also sweeping across South Dakota. Sioux Falls, Yankton, Rapid City and Elk Point have all switched to black and white police cars.

Mabry knows that such a color scheme can seem impersonal, even cold. "We tried to soften that a little bit with the graphics," he said. "We went to USD's College of Fine Arts, and asked them to come up with some graphics for us.

The word "police" on the cars is in lower case. "I thought that was unique, and I'm glad we incorporated that," the chief said. "The design also features a rather significant red stripe on the car. I wanted something unique, that would pop at you when you looked at it, and I wanted red because that's Vermillion's color."

�The majority of the people who have seen the black and white cars seem to like them, but you aren�t going to please everybody,� the chief said. �There are a few people who prefer the way they were.�

Mabry knows that such a color scheme can seem impersonal, even cold.

�We tried to soften that a little bit with the graphics,� he said. �We�re cops, we aren�t graphic designers, so we went to USD�s College of Fine Arts, and asked them to come up with some graphics for us.� The result is a new, very unique look to the new cars.

The word �police� on the cars is in lower case.

�I thought that was unique, and I�m glad we incorporated that,� the chief said. �A police car almost always has the word ?police� in all capitals, and when you stop and think about it, now in the days of e-mail and the Internet, whenever you type in all capitals, it means you�re screaming.

�I don�t think we need to scream that we�re the police, especially with a car that�s already black and white,� he said.

The design of the new black and whites also features a rather significant red stripe on each car.

�I wanted something unique, that would pop at you when you looked at it, and I wanted red because that�s Vermillion�s color,� Mabry said. �It�s our high school colors, it�s our university�s colors, and when you look up Vermillion in the dictionary, that�s what it means.�

Police cars, however, typically sport a blue stripe.

�I had a number of people, especially traditional police officers comment after they first saw the design say that they liked everything about it except the red stripe. They thought it should be blue,� the chief said. �But I think we need to reflect our community in some fashion.�

The car�s exterior also features the Lewis & Clark shoulder patch, designed for the uniforms of all Vermillion police officers approximately four years ago.

�That�s part of our history, so the graphics actually tell a little bit of a story rather than just identifying the car as a police cruiser,� Mabry said. �So, we were very pleased with the efforts of the students at USD, and the outcome.�

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