Why are patrol cars left idling in parking lots for so long?

Law enforcement vehicles continue to run for a variety of reasons.

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Answer Man, 

I was at a township board meeting recently and noticed an Olmsted County patrol car in the parking lot was idling without an occupant. The deputy was attending the meeting to give a report, but his car was still idling when I left the meeting more than an hour later. 

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Why don't deputies turn off their patrol cars if they know they will be out of them for a long time? Doesn't letting them run waste gas and therefore taxpayer dollars?

— Curious



You aren’t alone in asking the question.

One of my minions reached out to Capt. Tim Parkin with the sheriff’s office, and he said the question comes up periodically when residents see the empty cars idling in parking lots.

Additionally, I addressed a similar question about Rochester Police Department vehicles a few years ago .

Parkin said deputies leave the cars running for a variety of reasons, and none of them involve keeping the deputy cool or warm, depending on the season – or in recent cases, the time of day.

Since the squad cars contain several electronic devices, including laptops, video cameras, emergency equipment and more, the vehicles are used to keep them constantly charged for optimal performance.

In some cases, the deputies have K9 partners in the car, so they are kept running to maintain a safe and controlled temperature, which includes a system that automatically rolls windows up or down and turns fans on and off, as needed.

Lastly, some of the emergency medical equipment and medicine carried by deputies need to be in a controlled environment, so the cars cannot be allowed to get too hot or too cold while waiting for the deputy to return.

Of course, my countless longtime fans already knew this, because they read, retained and cataloged my earlier work on the subject.


In that epic column, a police captain told me idling isn’t as hard on squad cars as it would be on the cars we drive. Police vehicles are specifically designed to idle for long periods.

He also pointed out squad cars are outfitted with security systems similar to the automatic starters, which means anyone who happens to get in won’t be able to drive away.

That last bit is just a public service, in case you are tempted when you see an empty squad car idling for a long period.

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