If you see a plain white car with blue lights on it, it's a Baltimore police car waiting for silk screening.
Approximately half of the 162 new Chevrolet Caprice cars being added to the city police fleet don't have the identifying "Baltimore Police" emblems on their sides yet, but they're on the streets anyway.
"We decided to put them out on the street with just the light bars because we needed the cars out there," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. "It's not our intent to run unmarked cars. We're getting them striped as soon as we can."
The Caprices, which will be replacing the department's problem-plagued Ford Tauruses as primary patrol vehicles, went the street about five weeks ago. The department began silk screening the emblems, containing the department name, badge and a blue stripe running across the length of the car, on Sunday.
Mr. Frazier said about 16 cars will be silk-screened per day, meaning all of the new cars should be striped by the end of next week.
The commissioner spoke of his desire to replace the powder-blue Tauruses in January after having just joined the force, saying that he thought white Chevrolets conveyed a more professional image for police cars.
In recent weeks, the Taurus has come under fire from police officials, who call it a substandard police car that has had a myriad of mechanical flaws. The mid-sized cars were unsuited to the rigors of patrol work and broke down more often than the older, bigger Caprices which had been the department's mainstay.
Mr. Frazier said he didn't have any problems with the unmarked units hitting patrol before they have identifying emblems -- in fact, he said, it has been advantageous for some officers.
"I've had officers, and members of the community, tell me that they think [the unmarked cars] are a good enforcement tool. We can get half a block closer when approaching" suspicious persons, Mr. Frazier said. "Some people wanted them to stay unmarked."
But he said that won't happen.
"Even though it's perfectly legal to have them in just the plain white, our aim is to run a marked fleet," Mr. Frazier said.
In 1995, the department will receive another 80 Caprices to add to the city fleet, police officials said.