Sergeant James Post
CORONAVIRUS AND POLICE CARS
If you had told me six months ago, or even 20 years ago (when I first started this column), that I would be writing about a global pandemic, I would have volunteered you for a room at the laughing academy. But, here I am in lockdown, staring out of my office window, feeling like my dogs watching for squirrels.
A new enemy of all Americans (and the rest of the world) has landed and America’s first responders, military and medical personnel are on the front lines.
Switching from Police Cars to PPEs
As I write this, American police vehicle factories are shuttered and the companies are only selling units which are already built. This came at a time when sales of the new 2020 Ford® PIU Hybrid had increased to more than 20% of all their PIU orders. Tony Gratson, Ford’s National Government Sales Manager, reported that Ford was on track for the best PIU sales year to date, but everything changed with the arrival of the coronavirus, aka COVID-19.
Ford and other car companies, under the auspices of the Defense Production Act of 1950, have quickly shifted gears to provide critical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) desperately needed by medical personal across our country, including face masks, face shields, ventilators, and respirators. Ford and more than 300 UAW employees working two shifts are now making face shields.
During this crisis, automobile companies have also formed first ever partnerships with other American companies. Ford is also working with 3M™ and GE Healthcare to manufacture respirators and ventilators. The effort includes using off-the-shelf parts like fans from Ford E-150 cooled seats, J.D. Power reported.
General Motors first teamed with Ventec Life Systems to begin assembling ventilators designed by Ventec, then began building ventilators at the GM Components Holdings plant in Kokomo, IN. Tesla Motors purchased a quantity of ventilators in China and shipped over a thousand of the FDA approved units to California hospitals.
Other American companies – large and small and not associated with automobile production – have also stepped up to produce PPEs. For example, the popular My Pillow™ company in Chaska, MN, is making hospital masks, gowns and scrubs and the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, KY, is now making hand sanitizer.
Hardwire, a leading manufacturer of protective armor used by LE and the military, is also building face shields. Literally, in days, Hardwire designed, field-tested, optimized, and productionized face shields and has now scaled production to 6000 units a day with the potential of increasing that number exponentially should the need arise.
This is an unprecedented collaboration of American companies working together towards a common goal of defeating an enemy, albeit invisible, which has not been seen since WWII.
Law Enforcement on the Front Lines
As in any American crisis, law enforcement (and other first responders) find themselves on the front lines of this pandemic. From tornadoes in Louisiana to riots in Ferguson, mass shootings in Las Vegas to the aftermath of the Twin Towers, these heroes are the ones who run into danger while all others run away. They do this because of an uncommon valor most citizens do not comprehend. This crisis, however, is different and the toll of sickened and dying men and women of law enforcement is already alarming. Unfortunately, the annual ceremonies in Washington, DC, which honor fallen law enforcement members, have been cancelled. I hate to think how many names will be added to the LE Memorial Wall next year because of this virus.
I’m reminded of a time (and another pandemic – HIV) when protective gloves were placed in all of my department’s cruisers and, en route to unattended death calls, I radioed my officers to “glove up” before approaching the victim. For some time prior to this, officers were responsible for checking their engine oil at the start of every shift which, in reality, probably only happened 50-75% of the time. One of my responsibilities as a Field Sergeant was to conduct a weekly inspection of my sector’s vehicles. This happened on Sundays and I soon discovered that the cars were always missing the protective gloves. After a brief investigation, I discovered the new gloves were great for checking oil, too.
Creating Your Own Cruiser Safety Zone
Most of you know how I feel about police cars. I drove them for 25 years protecting and serving, followed by collecting and restoring them for another 25 years. Simply stated, I feel police cars are the most honorable vehicles ever built. I know that’s a brash statement, but think about it for a minute: Most cruisers are an officer’s office, lunchroom, board (bored) room, sanctuary, safe room, and home away from home. Despite all of the technical advances in police cars over the past 100 years, these descriptions still ring true.
With these thoughts in mind, I felt I must write this article to provide our heroic men and women on the front lines with any information I could find to make their jobs safer from COVID-19. I realize that, during this pandemic, guidelines and responses to it are changing every day, but what follows is up-to-date information gleaned from LE agencies and other sources about making your vehicles as safe as possible for you and other occupants.
First, there are three terms frequently used interchangeably which are actually three distinctly different processes: “clean,” “sanitize” and “disinfect.” Hagerty® classic car insurance provided these explanations: “Cleaning a surface physically removes dirt and germs, but doesn’t chemically kill any of those germs. Sanitizing and disinfecting a surface may or may not remove dirt and grime, and each one denotes a different intensity. When you sanitize your hands, for example, you aren’t killing all of the germs; you’re simply knocking down their numbers to a safe, lower level as determined by public health standards, but disinfecting is a take-no-germs-as-prisoners method. A realistic approach for your car’s interior is to clean and then sanitize.”
Following are procedures various departments around the country are taking to halt the spread of COVID-19 and protect their employees as reported by government- fleet.com.
San Diego County has their fleet mechanics wear latex gloves and wipe down all contacted surfaces with disinfectant wipes before, and after, making repairs. They also spray keys with disinfectant.
New York City has the largest outbreak of coronavirus and its police department has been severely impacted, prompting the NYC Fleet Services to issue a list of precautions which includes: “Operators should wipe down their vehicles at least once a day with standard cleaning and disinfecting products, paying particular attention to surfaces which are touched often, such as door handles, armrests and seat belts.”
From Michigan, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office has set up sanitation stations where cruisers are completely sanitized after transporting arrests and the Grand Rapids Police Department has a policy to clean vehicles at the start and end of each shift and after each prisoner transportation. Detroit Police, which has seen a serious infection of its personnel, now disinfects the interiors of patrol cars every few hours.
I reached out to my alma mater, the Kansas City, MO, Police Department (KCPD). Kansas City officers have been supplied with equipment (wipes, sprays and gloves) to disinfect their assigned vehicles. They seldom, if ever, transport arrests because (for decades) the department has assigned patrol wagons at each of the six patrol divisions (aka precincts), so their squad cars do not have partitions or prisoner seating. There are a few exceptions, of course, but the majority of the field units are traditionally equipped with sedans or SUVs without prisoner containment areas. The wagons, however, have separate prisoner compartments and the assigned officers are responsible for cleaning them at the end of each shift, or sooner, following contaminations of what Johnny Cash once sang, “the mud, the blood and the beer.” Each patrol division has power washers for this purpose.
The KCPD maintains their own garage for service, repairs and bodywork. When a vehicle arrives, the technicians put on gloves and masks and use an aerosol spray disinfectant (Claire® brand) before entering it. They then cover the seats with plastic seat covers (Slip-N-Grip® brand) and wipe down frequently touched interior components. The uniform fleet is equipped with rubber floor mats, so the spray is deemed effective on them, too.
Automobile Club of America (AAA) Guidelines
The AAA has published guidelines on how to properly disinfect cars which you may find informational, too. Their report states that most household cleaners which kill viruses are safe to use on a car interior without causing damage. Cleaning solutions which are at least 70% alcohol are the most effective. DO NOT use bleach or hydrogen peroxide cleaners which will damage upholstery. Use soap and water to clean dirty surfaces before disinfecting, but do not use water or other cleaners on sensitive electronic devices. Use an alcohol-based glass cleaner for all window surfaces. This should work for touch screen displays as well, but consult your owner’s manual to be sure. Clean carpets (if equipped) by spraying a suitable detergent and using a brush to work it in. Dry with a towel to remove stains and the cleaner.
Hagerty Classic Car Insurance Company Guidelines
Hagerty insures many of the most collectible and valuable vehicles in North America and periodically E-mails maintenance and preservation guides to its customers. After consulting with high-end restorers and detailers, they recently published their guide for disinfecting interiors. They have identified the six “hot spots” for COVID-19 contamination in a vehicle’s interior, but before initiating decontamination of these hot spots, first thoroughly consider the wipe or spray you are using. If it has an EPA registration number on the back label, it is a legit germ annihilator. Be certain to make note of the product’s “dwell time” which tells you how long it is supposed to stay on the surface. The general rule is “disinfect for three minutes, then clean for 15 seconds.”
Hagerty recommends these procedures be followed every day the vehicle is used (before operating it) and remember to wear gloves.
These are the six “hot spots”:
- Steering wheel: An average steering wheel can hold four times the germs of an average toilet seat. Clean the front, back, air bag housing, spokes, controls, and crevices. Attack any space where COVID-19 (or BBQ sauce) can hide.
- Door panels: These are vinyl surfaces where the virus can live for some time. Clean the panels, door handles, and power window and mirror controls.
- Gear stick and other levers: This includes column, floor and dial type gear selectors, turn signal and other levers.
- Cupholders (but be sure to remove your coffee cup first).
- Controls, buttons and switches: In police cars, this would include siren and radio controls, radio microphone, computer terminal, and especially the keyboard.
- Seat belts: This includes inserts and receivers.
I’ve added another category to Hagerty’s excellent tips which pertains to police cars.
- Police equipment: This includes prisoner partitions and seating, rear window grilles, spotlight handles, weapons, and weapon mounts. This includes gear in the trunk and rear compartments in SUVs, but only after use.
Hagerty concluded its discussion with a critical piece of advice which applies to both your assigned units and your personal vehicles. Avoid ALL unprotected contact with gas pump nozzles and controls every time you fill up. Those are unbelievably filthy and studies have shown that, even before the virus, they contained one thousand times more dirt, germs and contaminates than toilet seats in gas stations. Glove up before picking up the nozzle and then use it to push the selector buttons. When finished, throw away the gloves and, if you use a credit/debit card or department gas card, clean it with hand sanitizer before putting it away.
You’ll want to carry a small trash bag with you and, after cleaning your cruiser, or at the end of your shift, dispose of soiled gloves, wipes and towels in the bag and wash your hands again, probably for the umpteenth time during your tour.
NOTE: I realize that some of the above procedures differ in the order which cleaning and sanitizing/disinfecting occurs, but the point to remember is that both steps need to be taken, regardless of the order you choose.
Procedures to Sanitize a Vehicle Which Has Been Exposed to a Person with COVID-19
It is certainly possible that, during this pandemic, you may transport a person who tests positive for COVID-19 or an officer contracts the virus. The procedures for disinfecting the vehicle before returning it to service differ greatly from daily cleaning techniques and are more complex.
The following procedure was provided by Catherine Brown, Fleet and Facilities Division Director, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and we appreciate her sharing this valuable information.
- Personal protective equipment to utilize while cleaning: Tyvek® suit, gloves, shoe booties/coverings, mask and eye protection due to chemicals.
- Quarantine: Leave the vehicle secured and windows closed with no access by anyone for at least 96 hours from the point the presence of COVID-19 is confirmed. Cleaning can begin at the conclusion of the 96 hour period.
- Cleaning process: Open all of the vehicle’s doors to allow for proper air circulation to dissipate potential chemical fumes. Begin the wipe down process and dispose of all rags and wipes in a heavy-duty trash bag, tied off and disposed of properly. When finished, dispose all of the PPE properly and wash hands thoroughly as recommended by the CDC.
- Recommended cleaning agents: Lysol® or Clorox® Disinfecting Wipes (non-bleach-based); isopropyl alcohol (must be a concentration of 70% or higher); Lysol Disinfectant Spray (sprayed directly on seat fabric ONLY); and soap and water which chemically interacts with the surface of the virus and degrades and destroys the virus quickly.
- Non-recommended cleaning agents: standard hand sanitizers because they generally contain glycerin; all solvents (acetone, kerosene, etc.) which can damage surfaces and have no adverse effect on viruses; bleach; hydrogen peroxide; ammonia; and no liquid sprays due to potential overspray which could damage electronic equipment.
- What to clean inside/outside of a vehicle: anything which is touched or considered a “touch point” – the entire steering wheel; buttons; tilt/telescope adjustment; turn signal and wiper stalks; gear shift lever; all knobs and switches; touch screen; key fobs; all levers; door handles (inside and out); rearview mirror; seat belt buckle receptacle and tongue; exterior mirrors; engine start button; lift gate or trunk release button; seat adjustment controls; side mirror controls; all dash cam controls; all center console controls; overhead controls; grab handles; armrests; center console latch; glove box; vents; cupholders; sun visors; “A” pillar; exterior trunk handle; etc.
The Bottom Line
In closing, I recommend every department conduct some type of “deep cleaning” of their fleets after this pandemic is over. In addition to being healthy, this can be a great morale booster for your troops. Obviously, removing the seats and carpets/rubber mats can be time-consuming, so a quicker option would be to follow MOSHP’s procedure for disinfecting seats and carpets with a spray disinfectant.
Finally, regardless of which disinfecting or deep cleaning procedure you choose, ALWAYS remember to change cabin filters (if so equipped) frequently.
Our prayers are with all of you on the front lines and for your families confined at home. We may not recognize our “new normal” when this is all over, but, by working together, we will get there. Thanks for always supporting my efforts and we will talk again on the other side.
Sergeant James Post appreciates your comments and suggestions for future articles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.