Places: Car 295, Oklahoma City Police Department
Published: January 15, 2010
Modified: January 15, 2010 at 2:08 pm
This place moves. And when it moves, people notice — they slow if speeding; rejoice if hurting; and scurry away like roaches if law breaking.
Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty once told me that a police car is an officer's office on wheels. Seemed a logical metaphor at the time. In this sprawling city, most cops do the bulk of their work in their car.
Years later, sitting in the back of Lt. Roger Bratcher's police cruiser (willingly, mind you), it's clear that Citty's statement was as much literal as it was metaphorical. A modern office is most often merely a room with a computer, so it isn't surprising that nearly everything Bratcher does in this 2007 Ford Crown Victoria is done through a laptop. He sends e-mail in Outlook. He looks at spreadsheets in Excel. He uses Google Maps. On the surface, it's merely a Crown Vic with a computer.
If not for the fact that it's in a car, this could be the office of an accountant, or a broker, or even a reporter – I, too, use those computer programs daily. A touch-screen monitor mounted on the dash is the focal point of activity here. The monitor is hooked up to a laptop lodged in the trunk. A printer is wedged in the center console. I joke that I'm glad someone still believes in the value of printing; Bratcher says he rarely uses it. He does note that despite the technology at his fingertips in here, he still keeps maps of the city in the car “for lost people.”
While we're parked, Bratcher pokes away at the screen to show me how the whole shebang works. The radio squawks. Bratcher takes calls on his cell phone. E-mails arrive. Sitting here, you feel the pulse of a busy police department.
Bratcher finds his rolling office “as close to enjoyable as you can get.” I agree. The back seat in this cop car is cushy, the air is fresh and the ride is smooth.
“If you wind up back there, you don't really care,” Bratcher says.
Other law enforcement agencies outfit police cruiser back seats – the suspect pens – with plastic benches in anticipation of the fluids, grime and gunk that a suspect might leave in the car. Those plastic seats can be easily hosed out and sanitized, but Oklahoma City's police cruisers all have standard seats, leaving some of them to smell at times. “Like pee and puke,” Bratcher says.
Not his car. It almost never hauls handcuffed suspects to the slammer. It's what the department calls a Signal 30 car. That's police speak for fatality accident. Chances are if you see Bratcher's car, it's headed someplace tragic. After we're done with our pre-arranged appointment, I shut the door and hope I never see that car again.
- JOHN ESTUS, STAFF WRITER