Leaving a running police cruiser empty would seem like an invitation for trouble, but former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne says there is strategy behind the move.
The issue has gained scrutiny after the third, high-profile case of a stolen law enforcement vehicle played out Tuesday night. A suspect jumped into an SDPD patrol vehicle and rammed into Officer Jeffrey Swett in Barrio Logan, sending him to the hospital with serious injuries.
In August, a woman stole an SDPD patrol car in the East Village and led police on a pursuit to Oceanside. Three months later, another woman – this one handcuffed – managed to jump over the back seat of a California Highway Patrol car and drive off in it.
In all the instances, the vehicles were left running.
“I know it angers some people when they see that, but sometimes that's the cost of doing business for public safety,” said Lansdowne.
When seconds matter, the former chief said leaving a patrol cruiser ready to ride helps quality policing in fluid situations, like racing to a call for help or chasing down a suspect.
“Officers, as they get out of the car, are always worried they're going to get a runner,” he said.
“Someone is going to try and get away, so you've got to have quick access to the car. You don’t have time to start the car in the process."
Plus, running engines are needed to power cars that have become like mobile offices: computers with database access need cooling, and K-9s and suspects must be kept comfortable inside.
Lansdowne told NBC 7 at one time, the department considered implementing kill switches in the SDPD’s fleet, but cost and security turned them off the idea. Some were concerned that a person may be able to hack into the system and shut down all the patrol cars in the city.
Because there was no policy for locking cars while he was chief, Lansdowne said all officers are asked to stay constantly vigilant.
"There is no real policy other than common sense,” said Lansdowne. “They're asked to park safely when they can, lock the car when they can. That's not always the options when you’re actively working."