The DPS patrol unit is headed for a transformation that will be nothing less than historical. The white car with the blue DPS Star on the doors has been around for decades, I know. And, other than the addition of reflective blue stripes added in the early 90’s to increase visibility, the look of our patrol units has remained unchanged as far back as the 50’s. While searching, I began to wonder if anyone in the last 60 years had ever considered making a change to our image. I wondered if this topic had even come up in conversation. From what I’ve gathered, it never did.
Now I know this may come as a surprise to some, but our agency is steeped in tradition. It’s everywhere you look these days. In fact, I don’t think a day goes by that someone doesn’t remind me of this in some way, shape or form. We have spent generations putting down roots, deep roots that are entrenched with our values, our character and integrity. Having grown up in the Midwest, I liken it to a 100 year old Oak, anchored solid in the very ground which has nourished it from a seedling. You don’t just up and change something like that.
I mention all of this because I think I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge where we’ve been before I started explaining a change we’re about to go through. I realize that to some, changing our image is very serious. With that said, I have to be honest in that I’m excited about the fact that we are making history right now, today. For the next generation or two, people will talk about the transformation of 2016 and each of us have been a part of this historical change. At the very least, it has happened in our tenure with the agency. No one else in the last 60 years can say that.
This transformation actually began in early 2015 as Colonel Frank Milstead was appointed Director of DPS. Colonel Milstead recognized the identity crisis our agency has had for some time and began taking steps early on to change this. Arizona residents weren’t readily aware of who we were or what we did, much less the millions of visitors who help to support our economy in the state we call home. Even the local media struggles to get our name correct at times.
Our first transition was a shift in title from DPS Officers to State Troopers. This served to better align us with other highway patrol agencies across the country. The next logical step was an updated look that would further communicate our presence and establish a clearer identity. The idea was to enhance our visibility while separating us visually from other agencies across our state.
At the end of July, and after a couple of initial vehicle design concepts, the Agency Support Division (ASD) invited all DPS employees to submit ideas for our vehicle graphics. Lt. Colonel Vasquez, Assistant Director over the Agency Support Division, took the lead in coordinating this new image through a contest which encouraged every employee to submit their vehicle graphic ideas and designs. It was everyone’s chance to be a part of this change and a part of our history.
The ASD received over 120 renderings for consideration in response to the contest. I don’t think anyone anticipated this many people would get involved and it signaled that people were ready to embrace a change. The designs submitted were very professional ideas that reflected a great deal of time and thought. Quite a few incorporated the Arizona State Flag in their design while others took on bold graphics or subtle lines. I don’t remember one entry where I stood back and looked with a discriminating eye.
The 120 entries received from DPS employees from all over the state were slowly narrowed until there were two: The traditional white vehicle with bolder blue graphics providing minimal change to our present look. The other was a black vehicle with copper colored graphics to embrace both a new color vehicle with a retro capture of copper from our very early days. To continue gathering feedback from DPS employees, the narrowed options of White/Blue and Black/Copper were posted on the IntraNet and everyone was asked to simply pick which one they liked best. Much to my surprise, the end result was almost an even split with Sworn Staff favoring the Black/Copper while Professional Staff favored the White/Blue – interesting, I expected the reverse. So how was it decided that a silver vehicle with black graphics would be our future? Before I answer that let me share a little bit of history with you.
While I was doing my research I came across this vintage photo of a State Trooper standing beside his patrol car. I’m unable to find anyone who can identify the Trooper, but I can tell you that the patrol unit is a 1968 Chevrolet Biscayne Police Interceptor.
What’s interesting about this car is the fact that the 1960’s were revolutionary when it came to Police Interceptors. Automobile technology was advancing, hot rods were a dream every teenage boy shared while horsepower was being discovered in their dad’s garage. The Beach Boys were writing songs about fast cars and the pretty girls who drove them while teens were actually living American Graffitti which wouldn’t even be filmed for five more years.
The Police Interceptor was the answer for law enforcement’s quest for speed and horsepower. Auto manufacturers found themselves in stiff competition for horsepower and handling to capture this developing niche. The Biscayne was Chevrolet’s stripped down, entry level vehicle for the public. The rest were made for Police and Taxi use, if for no other reason than being more cost effective to purchase. There were several Police Interceptor packages available from Chevrolet that particular year, but every cop out there was hoping that they would get the “Special Order” Police Package. If you were issued one of these, you were the envy of your fellow officers and wore a grin every time you opened the door.
In 1968 the “Special Order” Police Package actually meant something. It was like a secret package within a package and cops who liked cars loved this one. In fact, it was like cop code for the unleashing of a beast. This Interceptor was often referred to as a “sleeper” and for good reason. Beneath the bland exterior, behind the little silver hubcaps, quiet mufflers and simple white paint was a wolf in sheep clothing. You see, sitting under the hood of this “Plain Jane” was a fire breathing, tire smoking 427 big block pushing upwards of 435 horses. When you climbed in and hit the key, you could feel her pitch just a little to the left as that massive crankshaft turned and all eight cylinders came to life. Stand on the accelerator and she could easily melt a set of tires between stop lights, leaving her “foot prints” etched into the concrete for years to come. This was not your grandpa’s Chevrolet. This was your teenager’s hot rod with red spinning lights on the roof and you grinned with your teenager’s enthusiasm.
Fast forward to 2015 and you see the Ford Interceptor Utility. 305hp V6 or a Twin Turbo 365hp V6 through a six speed automatic transmission with countless airbags, anti-lock brakes, All-Wheel-Drive, acceleration that would leave the old 68’ Biscayne crying on the shoulder and brakes that will stop on a dime and give you nine cents change. This is the shape of the new Police Interceptor. In 1968 they had never even heard the idea of an SUV, much less as a pursuit rated SUV. Today’s Interceptors are pretty much maintenance free (other than oil and filter changes) for the first 100k miles and they can easily achieve 150k miles before we need to consider their retirement. The Biscayne was lucky to reach 100k.
More than 50 years separate these two from one another, yet these pictures have but two things in common: The blue DPS Star on the car and the men standing beside them. Look at how much today’s patrol vehicle has evolved since 1968. While the equipment used by our Troopers today have evolved as well, the men standing proudly by their patrol units are no different in their dedication, their resolve, their character, their integrity or the Oath they took to continue with our tradition, our way of life. Suddenly I was reminded; our tradition is not in the patrol unit they drive nor the DPS Star on the door. Our tradition is in our people who are committed to serve.
With an even split amongst DPS employees, a sudden idea was born that would take us far out on a limb. A graphic design which was unique to any State while embracing a silver and black theme commonly found in the Eastern U.S., the concept quickly drew attention as well as acceptance. Silver is a common vehicle color as are the reflective black graphics which translate into cost savings over special colored vehicles or the reflective graphics in our DPS blue. Maintaining the same new and bold design produced an impressive image which immediately individualized DPS. The DPS Star is still positioned on the door, but now it will be on a background of black against the cooler shade of silver.
In the very near future, we will be more easily identified as Arizona State Troopers. The pride that these Troopers reflect will be one of continued tradition. 2016 will reveal an updated image of generations before us and now put in place for the generations who will follow us. There are some who may view the cool silver Interceptor with bold black markings a steep deviation from our tradition. That would be a fair initial thought and we might be tempted to simply stop there.
However, I see it as more like a changing of the Seasons. Eventually, Fall arrives and with it comes the preparation for Winter. The Oak’s leaves begin to turn a brilliant shade of yellow to orange to red before she sheds them entirely and hunkers down for the coming cold of Winter. Anchored in place beneath nearly three feet of frozen earth, she settles in to sleep yet again. Then, with the coming of Spring, she is awakened by the warmth of the sun. As she returns to life from her Winter sleep, her leaves of green will slowly unfold and she will once again shade the ground below. After all, a 100 year old Oak isn’t going anywhere no matter how many times she drops her leaves… it’s merely a change in Season.