Cape Breton Regional Police Rolling Stock: Buying

Remember that even advanced technology cannot overcome the laws of physics. It’s always possible to lose control of a vehicle due to inappropriate driver input for the conditions.Ford Police Vehicles website


I wrote the “rolling stock” headline for this article two weeks ago, when I first started gathering (or trying to gather) information about the vehicles operated by the Cape Breton Regional Police Services (CBRPS) but the choice of phrase now seems prescient given that, in the early hours of Monday morning, a police vehicle literally rolled into a house on Argyle Street in Sydney.

Here’s the full account from the Cape Breton Post:

A Cape Breton Regional Police Service vehicle crashed into a Sydney house early Monday morning.

In a release, police spokeswoman Desiree Magnus said that around 3 a.m. Nov. 25, officers were called to an incident on Argyle Street in Sydney.

The officers responded to a marked police car that had hydroplaned, rolled over into a yard and hit the house. The police vehicle damaged a window that, according to the release, responding officers attempted to temporarily repair.

Neither the police officer in the vehicle nor the person living inside the home were injured.

Cape Breton Regional Police traffic safety and forensic identification units were on the scene investigating Monday afternoon with assistance from the RCMP Integrated Traffic Unit.

The police car was identified as a Ford Taurus. It received extensive damage and will be assessed by Cape Breton Regional Municipality fleet management.

Presumably the officer at the wheel missed the November 14 article in the Post‘s “Wheels” section, “What is hydroplaning and how do we prevent it?”

Simply put, hydroplaning occurs when a film of water comes between a tire and the road. The steering goes light and you start to lose control. When the tire tread is no longer in contact with the surface, it can no longer provide grip and there is very little even the most experienced and competent driver can do. You can’t steer, stop or accelerate until the tire regains contact with the road.

In these situations there is only one thing to do — SLOW DOWN.

It would be interesting to know whether speed was a factor in this incident. (It would also be interesting to know how the officers “attempted to temporarily repair” the window, since the implication seems to be the attempt was not a success. I picture an effort involving yards of “caution” tape.) But let’s face it, it would be interesting to know anything about this incident other than the bare bones offered by the CBRPS spokesperson and yet, it’s possible we never will.

I say that because just two days before this most recent accident, the Post‘s Erin Pottie reported that the paper was unable to access details about an August incident involving two police cars:

Circumstances surrounding a collision involving two Cape Breton Regional Police vehicles three months ago remain a mystery.

Police haven’t released information on the cause of the crash that occurred around 4 a.m. on Aug. 4 along Highway 125 near the George Street and Grand Lake Road exits. The vehicles were later scrapped for parts.

The incident happened while officers were responding to a call. Minor injuries were reported, with one officer being treated at hospital…

The Cape Breton Post filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request for documents related to the crash under the province’s Municipal Government Act.

In a letter dated Nov. 4, the force denied access to the records on grounds that “disclosure of such information may harm the effectiveness of investigative techniques or procedures currently being used, or likely to be used.”

Three police cars totaled in a period of three months? Is this the CBRM or Hazzard County?


Fleet’s In

As I said, I’ve been wondering about the CBRPS vehicles for some time now — it started with curiosity about the force’s need for pickup trucks then expanded to the rest of the fleet when the intra-force collisions began in August.  My first step was to request a list of the makes and models of vehicles operated by the CBRPS. The response I received from CBRM Police and Fleet was:

The CB Regional Police fleet is comprised of 120 vehicles.

We are unable to provide the specifics of the vehicles, in order to mitigate public safety and officer safety.

As I pointed out last week, this might make sense in terms of the force’s unmarked vehicles, but it can hardly apply to the vehicles that say “Cape Breton Regional Police” on the side. I requested a break-down of the makes and models of the marked vehicles. I have yet to receive a response.

But it occurred to me that the CBRM has to put the purchase of police vehicles out to tender, so I could get a sense of what vehicles the force is driving (and how much we pay for them) by looking at the tender documents posted on the provincial procurement site. These only go back to 2012, but when the powers that be are as secretive as those in Nova Scotia, you take what you can get.

I’ve made a table with all the information I could glean from the procurement documents. I couldn’t calculate a grand total spent on police vehicles between 2012 and 2019 (although I can tell you it tops $1 million) due to discrepancies in the way the information is provided.

First, though, a little information about police vehicles in general, compliments of a fantastic resource I discovered this week: the Police Car Web Site, which I’m shortening to PCWS for my typing convenience and to whose anonymous authors I owe a great debt of gratitude.


Police Package

The first recorded police car in the United States, according to PCWS, appeared in Akron, Ohio in 1899. It was an “electric wagon custom built by the Collins Buggy Company” of that city and it featured “a stretcher, a cell for prisoners, seating for 12 people[,] electric headlights, and a warning gong.”

By the 1920s, patrol cars were in use all over the US with police forces tending to buy “the best car they could afford.”

This usually meant a standard car from the lower priced three automakers: Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth, black in color, with simple “Police” or “PD” markings.

As automotive electronics developed, police cars began to be equipped with emergency lights, sirens and radios. But according to PCWS, manufacturers also began to realize that police departments “needed vehicles that were slightly upgraded from what was offered to the general public.”

Vehicles that had heavier duty components (wheels, shocks, body welds, cooling systems, engine mounts, connectors, etc), extra holes and higher capacity electronic components for wires hooking up radios, lights, sirens and other equipment, and other assorted vehicle upgrades. Many of these options and components had been available as “police items” that were ordered individually. With the 1950 model, Ford made available the series of commonly ordered, heavy duty, factory options and components into one ordering package, calling it a “Police Package.” In 1951 Ford first used the name “Interceptor” for the optional 110 hp flathead V8 engine in [its] Police Package car.

First police car, Akron Ohio, 1899.

First police car, Akron, Ohio, 1899. (Source: Police Car Web Site)

Chevrolet introduced its own Police Package in 1955 as did General Motors’ Buick division. Dodge and Studebaker followed in 1956 and Plymouth in 1957. (Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Mercury were also in the police market, but in a much smaller way.) Interestingly, the modifications that distinguish a regular car from a police car generally have more to do with durability than performance. These days, according to PCWS, there are two primary police package vehicles — Police Pursuit Vehicles (PPV) and Special Service Vehicles (SSV)/Special Service Package (SSP) vehicles. The former “are what most people think of when someone mentions a police car.” The latter can be “a pickup truck, crossover utility, SUV, four door sedan or sports car.”

Also of interest (to me, anyway) was that:

The vehicles come from the manufacturer usually without items such as push bars, radios, light bars, and graphics. It most cases, these items are added later by another company, referred to as an up-fitter. Police markings may be added by a graphics company. A larger police agency may have [its] own fleet service department who installs the equipment and graphics.

I really recommend the PCWS website, which goes into much more detail about the history of the North American police car than I have time to explore here and is full of fascinating details. (I had not known, for example, that the Plymouth Volare — the car my family owned during my formative teenage years — was available as a police car. I wonder if I would have found it cooler, had I known? I somehow doubt it.)

2005 Ford Crown Victoria Anaheim Police K-9

2005 Ford Crown Victoria Anaheim Police K-9 (Photo by Mister Falcon CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons)

During the ’80s and ’90s, the options available to police departments began to narrow:

[B]y the mid to late 80’s the choice was down to the Dodge Diplomat (and identical Plymouth Gran Fury), Chevrolet Caprice, and Ford LTD Crown Victoria. 1989 was the last year for the Dodge and Plymouth police cars, leaving just Ford and Chevy.

Ford’s Crown Victoria became the de facto police car (and taxi) across North America. When Ford ended its production in 2011, Justin Hyde, writing in Jalopnik, explained the magnitude of police force affection for the Crown Vic this way:

Much of the love comes from ease-of-use. It’s sort of why Ford kept making the Crown Vic for so long. It was 32 years between the first and the last Crown Vic rolling off of the assembly line, largely because Ford was making too much money off of its already-paid-for tooling to get rid of it, but not so much money off of it that it could justify a radical replacement. It was around, it worked, that was it. Was it the best at its job? Not exactly.

But the Crown Vic was “cheap, easy to service, durable and powered by a V8 engine driving the rear wheels” and at the time Ford pulled the plug, it accounted for nearly 3/4 of all police vehicles sold. Some police departments were so attached to it, apparently, that rather than choose a replacement vehicle —  the Ford Taurus Police Interceptor or Chevrolet Caprice — they stockpiled Crown Vics.

Ford replaced the Crown Vic with the Taurus Police Interceptor (like the one that rolled into the house on Argyle Street on Monday) and the Ford Police Interceptor Utility, an SUV based on the Ford Explorer. The Ford Police Interceptor Utility is now the most popular police vehicle in the United States (and seems to be gaining ground in the CBRM too).


Super size

Ford, which claimed 65% of the police vehicle market in 2017, has a 25-member Police Advisory Board — made up of officers from the US and Canada — helping it design its vehicles. Presumably, the board advised Ford that it needed an SUV that could travel as fast as a sports car because the 2020 version of Interceptor has been clocked at 150 mph (240 km/h). Why do police officers need to travel at 150 mph? According to Ford product communications spokesman Chris Terry, it’s because:

When a car blows past you at 120 miles an hour, you need to get that person off the road as quickly as possible in the interest of public safety.

The only thing that stops a bad guy driving like a maniac is a good guy driving like a maniac?

But speed isn’t the only factor causing police forces to opt for SUVs. Back in 2018, Phoebe Wall Howard of the Detroit Free Press questioned a number of police officers about their preference for SUVs:

“We’re transitioning from Dodge Chargers to Ford Explorers due to the increased level of comfort they provide to our officers and the ease of exiting the vehicle quickly,” Chief Jerry Dyer of Fresno, California, told the Detroit Free Press when reached at the Major Cities Chiefs Association convention in Orlando, Florida.

“Everyone in law enforcement is going with SUVs,” said Bill Dwyer, police commissioner of Warren, Michigan. “We need more room because of the computers in the cars now, equipment, cameras. The Explorers have more room.”

In 2016, the police department in Greenville South Carolina swapped out its entire fleet for SUVs and Officer Gilberto Franco explained to the NBC affiliate WYFF:

For officers who are very tall or just bigger in size, they were having a difficult time trying to get in and out of the vehicle.

The trend toward larger police vehicles has reached Cape Breton, as you can see in the list I compiled of police vehicles purchased by the CBRM since 2012. In total, the tenders represent 62 vehicles — 61 new, 1 used. Given that the fleet now consists of 120 vehicles, that represents 52% turnover.


Award DateDescriptionBidding Vendors (Winners in bold)BidsAmount Awarded
September 243 Police Package SUVsDartmouth Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram$99,315.00 ($33,105 per unit)$99,315.00 ($33,105 per unit)
Saunders Motors$112,236.00
September 173 Police Package 4X4 Crew CabsPlaza Ford$110,211.00 ($36,737 per unit)$110,211.00 ($36,737 per unit)
August 26Supply Up to 6 Police Package SUVsPlaza Ford$43,153.00 per unit$258,918.00
Steele Chrysler$34,562.00 per unit
Colbourne Chrysler$37,097.00 per unit
Dartmouth Motors$36,370.00 per unit
February 21Police MotorcycleCabot Harley Davidson$21,799.00$27,138.16
Privateers Harley Davidson$32,789.86
December 7Two New Police InterceptorsNo bids receivedNo awards
October 17Police MotorcycleCabot Powersports$25,907.00$25,907.00
August 202 New Police Package 4X4 Crew Cab 1/2 Ton TrucksPlaza Ford$68,534.00$68,534.00
August 23 New Unmarked Police InterceptorsPlaza Ford$85,074.00$85,074.00
July 41 New Police InterceptorLloyd MacDonald Ford Sales$28,400.00$28,400.00
June 206 Police VehiclesPlaza Ford$115,720.00
(4 Police Interceptors)
(1 Unmarked Police Interceptor)
Dartmouth Dodge$32,476.00$32,476.00
(1 New SUV)
May 215 Police InterceptorsPlaza Ford$103,312.00 ($26,928.00 per unit)26,928.00 per unit
(4 Police Interceptors)
Scotia Chrysler$114,724.00 ($28,681.00 per unit)$28,681.00
(1 Police Interceptor)
2 Unmarked Police InterceptorsPlaza Ford$104,208.00 ($27,152.00 per unit)$104,208.00
Scotia Chrysler$115,928.00
2 4X4 Crew Cab 1/2 Ton TrucksScotia Chrysler$57,476.00 ($28,738.00 per unit)$28,738.00 per unit
(2 4X4 Crew Cab 1/2 Ton Trucks)
Plaza Ford$61,728.00
MacIntyre Chev$58,904.00
November 282 Unmarked Police CruisersPlaza Ford$25,753.00 per unit (2015 Taurus)$51,506.00
September 164 Police VehiclesScotia ChryslerDodge Journey ($23,820.00)
Durango Special Service ($33,174.00)
(2 Vehicles)
Plaza FordFord Edge ($30,445.00)
Ford Explorer ($34,937.00)
2 Vehicles (Amount not specified)
August 115 New Mid-Size Vehicles - PolicePlaza Ford4 X 2015 Ford Fusions ($78,476.00)4 X 2015 Ford Fusions ($78,476.00)
1 X 2015 Ford Escape ($23,356.00)1 X 2015 Ford Escape ($23,356.00)
May 234 New Police InterceptorsPlaza Ford$97,860.00$97,860.00
November 203 New Mid-Size Cars - PolicePlaza Ford$20,339.00 per unit
2 Cars
Hyundai$21,314.00 per unit1 Car
September 172 New and 1 Used Mid-Size SUVs - PoliceScotia Chrysler$66,486.00 (2 New)$66,486.00
$38,433.00 (1 Used)
September 17 2 New Mid-Size Cars - PoliceScotia Chrysler$38,926.00
May 144 New Police Interceptor VehiclesScotia Chrysler$103,548.00


Trucks, like the ones the CBRPS has been buying, also offer height and roominess but since 2018, they also, apparently, offer something else — the Ford F-150 Police Responder is the world’s first “pursuit-rated” pickup truck.

I’ll give you a moment to digest that.

The Michigan State Police and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department provide Ford with the specifications which determine  what is considered “pursuit-rated” and, according to Matt Posky in The Truth About Cars, it is currently a vehicle that can accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/hr) in 14.9 seconds, 0-100 mph (160 km/h) in 24.6 seconds, and attain a top speed of 120 mph (193 km/h) “minimum.”

(Posky’s article was actually pointing out that the Ford-150’s top speed is “only” 100 mph, which hasn’t prevented Ford from calling it pursuit-rated.)

As I mentioned, trying to figure out why cops need trucks is one of the reasons I fell down this rabbit hole, so I was interested to see the reasons why Ford thinks they do. According to police brand marketing manager, Stephen Tyler:

Ford’s 2018 F-150 Police Responder is the perfect all-terrain law enforcement vehicle. Aside from its industry-first on-road pursuit capability, this purpose-built pickup can comfortably seat five, while providing capability in off-road patrol situations for officers in rural environments patrolled by sheriff’s departments, border patrol operations and the Department of Natural Resources.

The vehicle will also serve officers well in post-Apocalyptic North America, judging by this marketing photo:


Ford F-150 SSV

Ford F-150 SSV (Source: Ford Police Vehicles)


I realize that the CBRM is a largely rural community but do our cops really spend much time on off-road patrol? Or are police truck drivers like most truck drivers in North America: people who don’t actually need trucks?


Wrap it up

I’m going to wrap this up soon, I promise, but there are four more points I want to make. First, the police in the CBRM spend a lot of their time dealing with issues that should really be the purview of social workers and addictions counselors and therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists. As Chief Peter McIsaac himself told CBRM council in 2018:

[P]olice have gone from the agency of last resort to the social agency of first choice, expected to be responders to just about anything and everything that happens in our communities.

This is not at all fair to the police, I will be the first to admit that, but I have to ask, what social problem is best handled with a pursuit-rated 4X4 Crew Cab pickup truck?

Second, there is a good case to be made that the CBRM has too many police officers. Our “cop-to-pop” ratio, as I have noted before in these pages, at 202 per 100,000 population, is higher than Quebec (133), Hamilton (151), Kitchener-Waterloo (141), London (148), Burnaby (116), Kingston (154), St. John’s (166), PEI (153) and Codiac Region-Moncton (125). And if there are too many cops, then it’s not a stretch to suggest there are also too many cop vehicles.

Third, when is the last time you heard anyone in the CBRM agonizing over the purchase of police vehicles (13 of which are unmarked vehicles assigned to senior management) the way we are currently agonizing over buying new buses and funding our — suddenly popular — public transit system? When have you ever seen a Post story about the police fleet comparable to the one that appeared on Tuesday about Transit Cape Breton under the headline:

Cape Breton transit success comes at a cost

The crux of the story is that the transit service is getting six additional buses, only one of which will actually be new. In all the police vehicle tenders I was able to access, there was precisely one call for a used vehicle. (I know, police fleet vehicles get a lot of use and rack up a lot of annual mileage — but isn’t that also true of buses? It seems to me that either the buses should also be new or the police cars needn’t all be — but I haven’t done enough research to state this unequivocally and am prepared to be corrected.)

But what part of this comment, by District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald, couldn’t equally well apply to the police fleet?

If we have three times the number of buses on the road that we did two and a half years ago then we’re replacing three times the brakes, doing three times the oil changes and using three times the fuel.

I have never heard a CBRM official express similar concern about the costs associated with maintaining the CBRPS fleet.

And finally (to bring this whole piece full circle) when is the last time a Transit Cape Breton driver rolled his bus into a house? Or two Transit Cape Breton buses had to be scrapped because they’d collided with each other?

Or wait, how about this: when is the last time two Transit Cape Breton buses had to be scrapped because they’d collided with each other and the police refused to release any details of the incident?

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?