Arresting new colors for police cars

Spring is around the corner, and police officers' thoughts are turning to - the color of their patrol cars.

White is passe, area police agencies say, and the buzz is about something different, snappier, sharper - such as black or blue.


As Baltimore City police prepare for a change from white patrol cars to black, Howard and Anne Arundel County police also are planning changes. Baltimore County's force flirted with the idea but hasn't pursued it.

"If you look around, most people have gotten away from white," said Howard County's police chief, G. Wayne Livesay, who is preparing a new black patrol car to mark the Howard department's 50th anniversary next year. If the black car proves popular, the county might consider switching colors, Livesay said.


Anne Arundel County has joined the trend and plans to move from white to two-tone blue police cars in the summer.

Conversion of Anne Arundel's 393-vehicle fleet will be gradual, said police spokesman Lt. Joseph E. Jordan. The new cars will have dark blue sides and lighter metallic blue hoods, roofs and trunk lids - a sharper version of a pattern the county used in the 1970s.

"It was time to start replacing the older patrol cars, so we needed to decide whether we wanted to keep them the same," Jordan said.

Arundel Chief P. Thomas Shanahan asked his commanders to survey troops informally to learn whether they like the idea, and a sample blue car was displayed at each district station for more than a week late last year.

Blue seems to be a winner, Jordan said. When a suspect being transported to the Western District station overheard officers talking about the new colors, the suspect said "'Yeah, I think it looks good,'" Jordan said.

Community meetings will follow to ensure that no one has serious objections, Jordan said.

Maryland State Police and the Maryland Transportation Authority force started the trend, with state police adopting a black-and-dark-olive combination in recent years and transportation authority choosing black.

Although the move away from white might seem new, it's more a cyclical return to colors that departments have used over the years. Howard had powder-blue cars in the early 1970s, said the Howard County Police Officers Association's president, James F. Fitzgerald. Baltimore used some blue cars in the early 1990s. And every department started with black cars, one of the few colors available for any car in the 1940s and early 1950s.


Black has regained popularity in recent years, said Ben Green, a salesman at Performance Pontiac, Buick, GMC of Columbia.

Many younger buyers "like it. They seem to think it's beautiful," Green said. Plus, "it's easy to maintain and looks great clean and shined," he said.

For police, "it's a morale issue," said Livesay, Howard County's police chief, dressed in a crisply starched blue uniform. "We're trying to do something special for our anniversary," he said.

A committee working on the anniversary celebration considered having the anniversary car painted black and white, like Howard cars of the past, but rejected the idea. "Two-tone black-and-white is too representative of the '60s - that's not a good time," Livesay said, recalling the era's social turmoil. Blue was rejected because trying to match shades from one manufacturer to another could pose problems.

"Black is what we drew as a consensus," Livesay said, adding that Fitzgerald volunteered the union's help in settling on a design and paying for decals and striping.

Howard Sgt. Timothy Black, who owns a 1957 Chevrolet painted to replicate a Howard patrol car from that year, said, "Everybody's looking for a change." Black, he said, "has a sharper, more professional appearance. People notice, and it draws attention to the police car."


Whether the Howard police fleet of 350 cars will eventually change to black is an open question, Livesay said, adding that no decision has been made.

Earlier this month, Baltimore police officials announced their plans to return to black cars with a dark blue swath on each side - in line with the department's leadership and more aggressive crime-fighting policies. The 430-car fleet will be transformed gradually, starting with a few test vehicles that should appear next month to gauge people's reaction, officials said.

Sun staff writer Laura Barn- hardt contributed to this article.