What Are the Different Types of Law Enforcement Vehicles?

Renee Booker

Law enforcement agencies are required to respond to a number of different types of situations in a variety of climates and terrains. As a result, law enforcement vehicles come in a wide range of styles, depending on their intended use and function. While the standard pursuit vehicle is what most people think of when they think of law enforcement vehicles, officers may also use motorcycles, paddy wagons, and watercraft, as well as SUVs and unmarked vehicles.

An unmarked SUV used by federal law enforcement.
An unmarked SUV used by federal law enforcement.

In most jurisdictions, patrol officers typically drive a marked vehicle that has been manufactured to function in high pursuits if necessary. Of all law enforcement vehicles, this is the most common and most easily recognizable. Marked police vehicles are generally equipped with lights and a siren, as well as a built-in computer. Additional modifications frequently include a grill, or metal separation, between the front and back seat for transporting prisoners, as well as removal of the door handles from the back doors. Traditional, marked vehicles are intended to serve as a deterrent to crime, as well as to make standard arrests and transport officers and prisoners.

A police car.
A police car.

A paddy wagon is usually a large van that has been modified to transport numerous prisoners at one time. The paddy wagon is often called to the scene of a crime to transport prisoners when the arresting officer is unable to, or when there are numerous prisoners who need transported. The paddy wagon often has a divider down the back to keep males and females separate as well as a divider to keep the prisoners and police officers separated.

Motorcycles, watercraft, and even snow-machines are also frequently found among the arsenal of law enforcement vehicles at a department's disposal. Motorcycles are frequently used to enforce traffic laws or to maintain a police presence in tight spots where a car cannot fit. Many law enforcement agencies have a lake or river within their jurisdiction and, therefore, must have a way to patrol the water. There are even snow-machines used in jurisdictions where colder weather often prevents safe travel.

Within the United States, federal law enforcement agents almost always travel in an unmarked vehicle — generally an SUV. U.S. federal agents frequently travel in teams, making an SUV a practical option. Local law enforcement agencies may also make use of marked SUVs. Unmarked law enforcement vehicles are used as a way to make use of the element of surprise when apprehending a criminal. Although an unmarked vehicle has no exterior markings, it will typically be equipped with lights and a siren and all the other interior accoutrements of a marked vehicle.

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