This article, originally published at 5:14 p.m. July 27, 2023, was updated at 10:15 a.m. July 28, 2023, to add comments from Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large).
Many people slow down, put their phones away or drive more carefully when they spot the telltale red and blue lights and bright logo of a police car. Montgomery County Police are launching new cruisers to make it harder to spot an officer nearby, said Assistant Chief of Montgomery County Police Darren Francke.
The county police department announced that it is rolling out new “slick-top” cruisers Thursday, which will have no lights on top of the car, and some of them will have a “ghost graphic,” which is a light gray police logo that is harder to spot than the usual logo.
There will be 16 total slick-top cruisers without the ghost graphic and 12 with it in the Central Traffic Division, Francke said.
The department did not buy any new vehicles; they just removed the light bars from the top of existing cars and will use them on other vehicles if needed, Francke said. He added that installing the new interior lights costs $200 per car, which is not expensive for them.
Police said that the slick-top cruisers will not have light bars mounted on the roof, but they will have lights on the windshield and rear window.
The ghost graphic slick-top cruisers have the department’s standard decal, but it is “subdued gray and white” instead of black and gold. This graphic is intentionally faint during the day. However, they are highly reflective at night for safety reasons, according to police.
For the ghost-graphic cars, police will just need to strip the current graphic off and place the new one on, which is not a difficult process, according to Francke.
These new police cars are part of Montgomery County’s Vision Zero traffic safety plan, which was created to “enhance enforcement of all traffic violations, especially those that contribute to serious and fatal collisions: impaired driving, speeding, occupant safety, aggressive and distracted driving,” police said.
This county plan, introduced in 2016, seeks to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2030.
Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large) said the Vision Zero plan is vital to keeping roads safe for residents.
“I appreciate the County’s commitment to Vision Zero and the efforts of public safety and first responders to keep our community safe,” Jawando said to MoCo360. “While I have not seen these new vehicles, I 100% agree that it is imperative that we step up enforcement of speeding, DUIs, reckless driving, and driving without seatbelts, which are key drivers of fatalities on the roads.”
Jawando introduced the Safety and Traffic Equity in Policing (“STEP”) Act earlier this year, and he said the goal of it is to “address racial disparities in traffic enforcement and allow law enforcement to focus on safety-related traffic enforcement and crime.”
He said Virginia has already implemented similar laws. He hopes to continue to collaborate with the county to promote racial equality as they introduce measures like the stealthy police cruisers.
“Any action our County takes should balance community safety with a racial equity and social justice lens to ensure we are not creating harm,” Jawando said.
In 2020, there were 41 collisions; there were 35 in 2021 and 46 in 2022. So far, this year, there have been 23, said Carlos Cortes-Vazquez, county police public information officer.
Recently, there was a collision on June 18 between two vehicles that resulted in the death of a 54-year-old woman, and in May, there were three pedestrian fatalities.
Organizations such as the Montgomery County Families for Safe Streets, Action Committee for Transit and Washington Area Bicyclist Association have advocated for safer streets, according to previous MoCo360 reporting.
The “subdued” appearance of the cruisers will help officers view people’s natural driving behaviors, especially when they are texting while driving, speeding, not wearing seatbelts, driving impaired or driving aggressively, police said.
These are common causes of vehicle collisions, according to police.
Francke said that people will often not get pulled over and held accountable for being on their phones behind the wheel because they see a police car pulling up next to them.
“All they need to do is see you in their rearview mirror and stop their behavior,” Francke said. “When they’re breaking the traffic laws, folks do look for police cars.”
The goal of these cars is to “intercept the egregious traffic violators,” Francke added.
Francke’s response to critics that may believe these new incognito cruisers are unfair:
“It’s not about fairness; it’s about the safety of everyone on the road. Driver behavior is a life and death situation. While people may not feel it’s fair, we want to err on the side of making sure that our streets are safe,” Francke said.