Local police departments use their discretion to determine which identifying graphics to use on their vehicles, how large to present them, and where to place them on the vehicle. These identity and information elements are collectively referred to as the "police car graphics design" or "design". According to the Hendon Group, "In many states and jurisdictions, the police vehicle graphics is specified by either statute or state-wide police or sheriff’s association. Before redesigning your police vehicle graphics, be sure to verify any compliance requirements for your jurisdiction.
1) Black and White (Contrasting Colors)
Black and White or two toned. It's the iconic, immediate recognizable identification of a police vehicle in the united states. In the past, car doors and roofs of most police units were painted white, while the trunk, hood, front fenders, and rear quarter panels were painted black. With the evolution of quality vehicle wrap and graphics vinyl, police have the economical option to purchase an all black vehicle and simply wrap the areas white that fit their design. Many cities find that they can save money by purchasing a single color vehicle for deliver and then customizing the graphics on locally.
Rather than wrapping doors with white, some agencies have opted to represent the high contrast black and white look with wide stripes across the vehicle. What is important is to present an easily identifiable presentation of a law enforcement vehicle.
The primary reason for black and white as a base design is the high contrast and immediately identifiable markings. Police have noted that they stand out more than single color vehicles. This is valuable for police that want to maintain a high public presence that can potentially serve a a deterrent to crimes and traffic violations.
While black and white is the traditional way to go for police car design, many agencies opt for a single color vehicle with identification graphics (see below). Other common colors for single color police vehicles are black, white, brown, green, red and blue. (although red is often reserved for fire and rescue vehicles)
2) Name of the Authority
The name of the authority if the most prominent element in a law enforcement vehicle design. It is most often combined with a symbol of authority - see #3 below. The wording of the authority (Police, Sheriff, Highway Patrol, State Patrol, etc) is spelled out in a highly visible way on the vehicle for immediate identification by the public and other law enforcement personnel or emergency responders.
The word POLICE is almost always the largest single marking on the vehicle for easy identification. For black and whites, some jurisdictions choose to let the black and white identification do the immediate work of identifying the vehicle as a law enforcement authority vehicle and emphasize the city or county name more than the word police. In the above example, the black and white combined with the large text for POLICE maximize impressions and community police presence.
The name of the authority should be presented in high contrast to the background color on the vehicle. If on white doors, the colors are typically, black, navy blue, forest green, charcoal gray, deep red. Silver on a white door, for example, may not provide high enough contrast to make the vehicle immediately recognizable. Metallic vinyl enhancements or boarders are often added with silver, gray or gold. These enhancements should to in any way interfere with the legibility of the authority name.
The authority is always identified on the sides and rear of the vehicle. Some agencies also choose to include on truck lid, hood, roof and fenders.
3) Symbol of Authority
A symbol of authority may take the form of a star, shield, shoulder patch or state seal. A police badge, star or shield is perhaps the most visible and recognizable symbol of policing around the world. From a practical standpoint, officers wear badges as a means to identify who they are and who they work for. The same is true for including a badge, star or shield on the vehicle. Our wide format printer can print police graphics details up to 1200 dpi. The results is an impressively detailed replication of the local agencies most important symbol.
The symbol of authority is always presented on both sides of the vehicle. The size of the symbol can vary from as large as the full size of the door to as little as a 6" decal on the vehicle fender.
4) City (or Jurisdiction)
All marked police vehicles have jurisdiction identification. Emphasis is typically placed on the authority name with the jurisdiction secondary. The authority name is typically larger than the jurisdiction name.
The jurisdiction name must be clear and legible. It is often presented in the same style (font and colors) as the authority name, but in a smaller size. It can also be presented with specialized fonts and styles that represents the area, skyline or city. The emphasis should always be placed on legibility over style.
In the example above you can see that Renton has secondary emphasis to the word police. It is represented in the same style, font and colors as the word "POLICE", just smaller.
5) 911 or Non-Emergency Contact
Adding 911 or non-emergency website address is certainly not a requirement. But it is a good service to remind the public that help is always just a 911 call away. The three-digit telephone number "9-1-1" has been designated as the "Universal Emergency Number," for citizens throughout the United States to request emergency assistance. It is intended as a nationwide telephone number and gives the public fast and easy access to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).
In addition to 911, we have also included a reflective strip on the back of the vehicle with direct contact information for the local department.
If the 911 number or non-emergency contact information is added to the design, we recommend that it is subordinate to the authority name and jurisdiction. It should be smaller and included in an area that doesn't compete for attention with the most important elements.
6) Vehicle ID Number
Every vehicle has a unique vehicle number. We coordinate with the city or police fleet managers to ensure the vehicle identification number matches with the radio identification number prior to installing on a new vehicle. So much data is collected, stored, transmitted and processed in each vehicle that coordinating the vehicle identification with the exterior graphics number is essential.
Vehicle identification numbers are often installed on sides, rear and roof of the vehicle.
6) Motto or Other Symbols
While not required, some jurisdictions choose to add a motto or values statement to their vehicles.
In the US, each police department is it's own entity. It is not unusual for a department to have a motto or values that encapsulate their philosophy. These values or mottos build pride within a department and reinforce publicly the role of the department within the community.
Like the badge, these values help bond the department together and help foster positive relationships with those they serve. If your police department has a motto or values that help create a unifying identity within your organization we recommend that you include it on your vehicles given their high exposure to the public.
Other patriotic symbols, like the American flag, can be included on a police car. Expressions like "In God We Trust" is also commonly included on police vehicles in some parts of the country.
Like the 911 message, this information should not compete visually with the authority name and jurisdiction.
Stealth or Subdued Graphics
Stealth Graphics (also known as Ghost Graphics or Subdued Graphics) have all the same design elements as a standard department police car, only without the white doors and with much lower contrast colors. The Stealth graphics are designed to have a similar affect as an unmarked police car. They are frequently created using a matte version of the vehicle color or reflective graphics for higher visibility at night. You can learn more about this style of graphics here.
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