The answer is “two.”
Recently, the New York City Police Department ordered a couple hundred Smart ForTwo’s, painted in the now-classic bright white and “Pepsi-blue” livery, to help patrol the streets of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs.
Well, the mission and practice of policing major urban areas is changing. Due to mounting civilian fatalities, increased availability and use of helicopters and advanced technologies like GPS and engine immobilization, the days of heart-pounding police pursuits are pretty much over. Certainly, capacious and muscular vehicles like the police-package Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Caprice, Ford Taurus and their SUV cousins will always have their place in law enforcement, but, in congested cities, maneuverability, not speed, is king.
That’s a major reason for swearing in this new graduating class of Smart ForTwo’s.
Now, you probably won’t pee your pants if you see one of these little buggers in your rearview mirror (unless it’s from laughter) but the NYPD is throwing its full weight of support behind these small-fry patrol vehicles. They have been using three-wheeled motorized scooters for a wide variety of duties for years. However, these scooters are unsafe, painfully slow and, much to the sweaty chagrin of officers wearing heavy bulletproof vests in August, are not air-conditioned. They’re also shockingly expensive—approximately $29,000 each. Seriously.
The Smart ForTwo, conversely, protects its protectors with a full complement of airbags and crumple-zones, it is surprisingly roomy, has air-conditioning and comes patrol-ready for around $5,000 LESS than the faux-Pope Mobiles the NYPD had been favoring for years.
As evinced by the scooters, the notion that smaller-is-better is not a new concept to the NYPD, nor is it unique to this department.
The famous 1966 Doyle Dane Bernbach VW ad makes that cleverly clear, but it wasn’t just advertising. The oil embargo of the 1970s forced many police departments to reconsider their priorities and bag their gas-hog V-8 patrol cars like the immense Plymouth Fury in favor of more petite vehicles with more modest horsepower ratings.
Departments around the country did so grudgingly, and with various levels of success.
The Dodge Dart and its cousin the Plymouth Volare weren't exactly officer favorites. The Plymouth Valiant and its cousin the Dodge Dart didn't fare that much better. Officers, used to patrol vehicles with interior dimensions and appointments of most suburban living rooms, complained that they were uncomfortable and cramped inside these smaller vehicles. Keep in mind, for the sake of perspective, that the bumper-to-bumper length of a 1974 Plymouth Valiant police car (the smallest police car available back then) was 188 inches. A 2016 Subaru Forester is 180 inches.
The Philadelphia Police Department experimented with the bite-sized Plymouth Horizon in the late seventies and early eighties. It didn’t go well. When Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was shot and killed in December of 1981, the first car to show up on-scene was a Philly PD Horizon. Fellow officers, in a vain attempt to get him to Jefferson Hospital as quickly as possible, tried to place Faulkner in the Horizon’s minuscule back seat. He didn’t fit.
But, by and large, tiny police cars serve a purpose, and it isn’t just mobility, maneuverability and access. Don’t ever underestimate the cute-factor. Pictures of the NYPD Smart ForTwo’s have been showing up all over the place on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, usually accompanied by an affectionate caption. And heart emojis. NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Support Services said recently that, “People want to take pictures with it. People want to hug it, they want to kiss it. It’s amazing.”
A police car increasing Millennials’ dopamine levels? Anything's possible.
Still skeptical? Just look at the big-hearted smile on the face of the officer behind the wheel of his new Smart ForTwo. You can’t fake that. You can’t pose that. And that’s branding.
Police departments, in case you didn’t know, have brands. They have identities. They have social media pages and, in many cases, high-ranking officers in charge of these accounts, and they are tasked with maintaining the department’s brand identity. They’re marketing executives, whether they know it or believe it or not. In this era of police shootings and cellphones recording officers’ actions, and army-style materials at protests and demonstrations, with images of police officers clad from head-to-toe in ballistic battle-gear, the Smart ForTwo is probably exactly what the NYPD, and many other police departments need. These cars have already improved police/civilian relations in New York. People are taking pictures with the cars, and the officers. They’re talking to the officers at the wheel, joking with them, laughing with them. They’re having innocent, human interactions with them. People and cops, (who, by the way, are people, too), are coming together because of a tiny white thing on four wheels that’s as cute as a button in a world that could use more cute.
Rolling out police cars that people want to hug and kiss. That’s, well, Smart.