Sergeant James Post
Police Vehicle Mounts and Consoles: A Selection Guide
The days of moving a “universal” vehicle console and computer mount (docking station) between different makes and/or cruiser models are as dated as a $1.00 gallon of gas.
This newest installment of “Wheels” presents a guide for selecting appropriate new consoles and computer mounts for your fleet. The effectiveness of an LE vehicle’s “mobile office” and, in reality, an officer’s performance, hinges on two critical components: the console and the computer mount. But, first, a brief rundown of console history is in order.
Considering that purpose-built LE vehicles date back to the 50s, consoles (followed later by computer mounts) can be considered a fairly new phenomenon, dating from the late 80s and early 90s. I spent my entire 25 year career (starting in 1965) driving police cars with what we called “stack racks,” built in-house by our garage mechanics. The police radio was bolted to metal straps and a metal panel with toggle switches was then attached to the bottom of the dash with the radio mic hung off the strap.
When electronic sirens became available, they were added to the stack which was then screwed to the transmission tunnel (hump) and a brace attached to the dash for improved stability. When I restored my first retired cruiser (in 1991), I went with what I knew and built an “old-school” stack rack in the same fashion. Stack rack additions might have included CB radios and scanners. Starting in the 60s, the Missouri State Patrol mounted their radios and controls on a flat plywood panel attached to the floor. Arkansas State Police used wood boxes with electronics bolted on top for several decades. They were built by state prison trustees.
Later, when the first “universal” consoles appeared, they were rudimentary no-frills metal boxes to which radios and switch panels were mounted and they were then mounted to the transmission hump (tunnel) with metal screws. Some were furnished with “Swiss cheese” side panels which provided numerous holes for mounting to the hump.
Departments purchasing new or used cruisers almost always just repeated the process…moving the old console to the new cruiser and simply screwing it down. I once restored a 1992 Caprice in the mid-90s which had seen many owners (departments). When I pulled the carpet back, I discovered over 20 screw holes in the floor indicating many relocations of the simple console. (I also discovered many more holes in the trunk floor where other equipment had been mounted.) So, my first task in restoring all these old cruisers was to break out the tube of 3M™ Silicone and start plugging these holes which leaked water, dust and fumes into the cabin and trunk. These basic consoles could be used between bucket seats or in front of bench seats, but their best use was as a boat anchor!
As technology improved with consoles designed for specific makes and models, some car builders started adding console mounting plates to ease installation and several console manufacturers started utilizing OEM factory seat mounts to attach their consoles.
As police car designs changed and more companies entered the aftermarket LE equipment field, it often became prohibitive and time-consuming to move used consoles to new purchases, particularly if a model redesign was not compatible with the older console. Later, as departments started adding in-car computer terminals or laptops for record checks, report and ticket writing and even dispatching, a new era began which required designing secure, sturdy reliable mounts for this expensive hardware, easily the most expensive component in the interior.
Choosing a Console Which Is Right for You
The selection process should begin with a discussion (or Zoom call) between you and your fleet personnel (mechanics) or your upfitter, with input from field officers. With your wish list in hand, next review products from console and computer mount vendors, as there are a number of well established manufacturers offering high quality products designed specifically for your vehicle of choice. Most companies feature online catalogs and new products are displayed at law enforcement expos around the country every year, including ones hosted by the IACP and Police and Security News. Added to that, most vendors have regional sales districts with assigned sales personnel who still make house calls.
By the Numbers
Your primary considerations to make before purchase include: 1) the type of vehicles in your fleet (SUV, sedan, truck); 2) if you have special units, such as surveillance, investigations, admin, and/or K-9; 3) if your fleet operates one or two officer crews; 4) brands of mobile computers, laptop, or tablet which will be utilized; 5) equipment brands and placement choices; 6) if the vehicle will have a prisoner partition; and 7) if your department offers take-home units. (Computers should be able to be easily removed at end of tour like all police equipment.)
The console serves as the foundation of the patrol unit “mobile office” and should be considered nothing less. Beyond the above basic considerations, there are several optional console additions available, too. Some may be thought of as “comfort” items, such as cupholders, single or dual armrests and built-in storage compartments, but all of these can enhance officer performance, job satisfaction and morale while actually performing other valid functions. For example, cupholders can prevent spilled liquids from damaging expensive controls mounted in/on the console, while also providing needed hydration to your officers. Armrests certainly provide officer comfort during long ten to 12 hour shifts while facilitating computer operation as well. Storage compartments usually feature hinged lids (with optional locks) and can provide secure storage for weapons, ammo, handcuffs, writing materials, flashlights, protective masks and gloves, field drug tests, portable radios, and critical first aid equipment (such as tourniquets). These are often a cop’s best friends, particularly when a prisoner partition negates the use of “over the seat” hanging containers. Other optional add-ons can include cell phone holders and chargers, USB charging ports, auxiliary flexible stem-mounted lighting, and writing desks.
Your final consideration is the console construction. The majority are built of industrial strength aircraft aluminum plate, polycarbonate or heavy flat metal panels and are powder-coated with a textured finish. The components are welded and the corners smoothed or rounded for safety. The tops usually feature a flat horizontal plane with removable panels (of varying widths) which allow siren and light controls to be mounted flush with the top. Attached to the console sides usually are the mounting brackets for the unit.
Final physical considerations you’ll need to decide include the height of the unit so it does not interfere with the officer’s personal gear (duty belt and body armor) or emergency egress, and whether or not they should accommodate right and left weapon holsters. The width should not touch an officer’s hips or cover the seat belt release in case of a side impact collision.
Another important decision in mounting the console involves your officers’ sizes. Because of the shortage of able-bodied police officers nationwide (due to resignations, retirements, or terminations), today’s LE hiring policies have almost no basic requirements other than age and criminal pasts. Almost anyone with a heartbeat (any sex, nationality, education, size) is welcome to apply. I know that statement is vague, misleading and certainly NOT applicable everywhere, but the reality is that most departments are hurting. Departments have few applicants and not enough recruits to fill academy classes.
I bring this up to point out the difficulty you’ll likely have when determining the placement of a console due to the variance in an officer’s height, weight and sex. It’s just not practical (or even safe) to expect an officer to be uncomfortable for any or all of a tour, i.e., being cramped, not able to reach the pedals, being too tall, poor 360º visibility, etc. Moveable console mount positions might help, but this may continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future. The only suggestion I can make is to list height and weight of all uniform personnel and go with an average. Of course, this could repeat every time a new academy class graduates and this dilemma is exacerbated if your vehicles have prisoner partitions which don’t move.
To bring you a little light at the end of your tunnel, there are a couple of options you should consider when ordering your new fleet. These include (if offered) adjustable pedals; tilt wheel; adjustable steering column; power driver; passenger seats (including adjustment for height, movement forward and back, tilt angle, and adjustable lumbar support); adjustable head rests; and tilt (reclining) seat backs. Every extra inch you can give your cops will be appreciated!
Computer Mounts/Docking Stations
Computer mounts present other, but similar, installment issues. The primary concerns are accessibility and visibility for one or two officers and potential obstruction of air bags or rifle/shotgun mounts. Optimal glare avoidance and night vision, distance to keyboard, screen height, clear view to outside mirrors, and windshield blind spots are all legitimate concerns and most can be resolved because most mounts include several height and angle options. The major concern is that a mount must be compatible with your computer/tablet choice and keyboard (if not integral). This choice is best accomplished prepurchase with hands-on examinations by officers and IT personnel.
And Now from the Big Three
In our earlier console discussion, I mentioned that some newer makes feature mounting plates to speed up installation; a notable one was the early Dodge Charger Pursuit models (around 2010). I used one on a refurbished vehicle and it worked great. Other additions to police pursuit vehicles have included separate HD dedicated wiring harnesses and grounds prewired for typical mounting locations for lightbars and radio equipment. Some companies have ventured into the upfitters domain by offering spotlights, alternating (wig wag) headlights, and flashing front and rear lights (in optional colors). The advantage to considering these options is that they speed up getting your new units on the street and they are covered by factory warranties.
Recalls and Other Breaking News
In late November of last year, Ford Motor Company announced that it had filed patents for new partition airbags which could be used in future Ford police vehicles. The Blue Oval folks are looking at possibly adding airbags as a partition between the cabin and back seat, as well as in between front seats. Along with protecting detainees in the rear seat of the vehicle, adding another airbag in between the two front seats will provide an additional safeguard in the event of a side crash. My feelings are you can’t have too many airbags (excluding mothers-in-law).
Ford announced last month that they have cut production of their all-electric Lightning® pickup in half due to lack of sales and orders. There was no indication this decision was based on plant closures because of the recently resolved UAW strike. I don’t suppose the MSRP was a factor?
James Post spent 27 years in local, county and federal law enforcement; has written for P&SN for 25 years; and has restored over 50 retired cruisers as a hobby. He always appreciates your comments, complaints and suggestions and can be reached at email@example.com.