Two members of the Kenai city maintenance department saw something that could be better and made it better. Kenai mechanic Scott Morris and foreman Randy Parrish redesigned the interior of Kenai’s police cars to improve the visibility, safety, and comfort of the driver and passenger.
The equipment in the front of a Kenai police car includes a radar unit, laptop computer, a printer for citations, a two-way radio, controls for exterior lights and sirens, a fuse box, and a gun rack carrying a rifle and a shotgun. As the cars were previously arranged, the radio panel, light controls, and fuse box were contained in a bulky, 22 inch-long console between the driver and passenger seats. The laptop sat on a swing arm mounted to a metal post on the passenger’s side floor, and the printer sat in front of the gun rack, inhibiting quick access to the weapons.
Parish said that the metal post had the potential to injure a passenger during a collision, and that the computer and radar unit blocked the driver’s vision on the right side of the car.
“If (the officer) is in here writing a ticket and somebody loses control and smashes into the side of the car, he wouldn’t know it until after it happens,” Parrish said.
Parrish and Morris redesigned the interior of one of Kenai’s 15 police cars, that used by school resource officer Alex Prins. Parrish said the police department intends to redesign the other cars as funding becomes available.
In the upgraded car, Parrish and Morris reduced the console between the front seats to a length of 7 inches by moving the fuse box into the glove compartment, and the light and siren controls to the ceiling. The laptop sits on a much smaller metal post, enabling it to swivel between driver and passenger sides without the swing-arm, as well as placing it out of the way of the window.
Parrish said that the components of the new design are also more modular, making them easier to remove, install, and transfer between cars.
According to Parrish, Kenai designs and constructs the interiors of its own police cars.
“Nothing comes standard,” Parrish said. “We get a bare car. The old design comes from components that were readily available on the market. It was different combinations of different vendors. We still use different vendors for a lot of it, but a lot of this in here (in the upgraded car) is custom-made.”
Parrish said that future Kenai police cars will use a further upgraded configuration.
“Typically we get about two new cars a year,” Parrish said. “This year, due to the age of our cars and the miles on the cars, we’re not purchasing any. But we have plans for the next cars that come along that will be more refined then this.”
In future cars the radio controls will be near the light and siren controls on the ceiling, “so that everything the officer’s doing as he’s driving down the road, his eyes will never have to leave the road,” Parrish said.
Since creating the new design, Parrish said that he and Morris have spoken to other police departments looking to improve their cars.
“We’ve been contacted by Ketchikan,” Parrish said. “Another police department down in Seward has contacted us, asking us about what products we use, wanting pictures and information. We’ve had some interest from outside of the state. Our hope is, and truly our goal … is strictly to get the information out there for other departments to see what they can do with the cars that they have.”
In early April Morris and Parrish were given the Governor’s Safety Award, presented by the Alaska Safety Advisory Council in a ceremony in Anchorage. More recently the two also received a cake, presented by the Kenai City Council at its Wednesday meeting.