Vans are a ubiquitous part of Britain: as the workhorses of our economy, we see them on roads everyday in all shapes and sizes delivering goods and services. Despite this, we rarely, if ever, talk about one special use of vans: policing.
Police vans make up an incredibly important part of the country’s force, helping officers maintain law and order. For van enthusiasts, the police van is one of, if not the, most exciting conversions out there. An array of specialist equipment is needed to help police perform their daily duties. It’s a logistical nightmare (or dream) for van manufacturers, servicers and retailers, who need to provide a high quality van conversion that’s extremely reliable.
While there is a huge amount of variation between the types of van used – every individual police force has its own approach to buying in and converting vans, but Ford, Vauxhall and Mercedes-Benz are most popular – there are nevertheless two common uses for vans across the UK’s many constabularies: transportation and logistics.
The transportation of officers and prisoners presents some unique requirements. In smaller cars, prisoners in the back are separated from officers in front by strong metal fencing. For more serious offenders, vans must be used because they can fit metal containment cells in their load space. Cells can be individual or shared but are heavy due to a huge amount of reinforcement.
Though often handcuffed, the prisoner’s wellbeing is still crucial, meaning seats must accommodate security and safety at the same time. The cab chassis and windows are usually reinforced with polycarbonate lining in case of motoring accident.
Lancashire Constabulary, a force of 3,000 officers, has some 70 vans in operation for transporting suspects to its stations. These vans, known as section vans, can carry up to four offenders.
As they’re out in the field before being radioed in to pick up suspects, these vans have to be ready to deal with incidents on the go: incident data recorders, fire extinguishers, tetra radio and hand held spot lamps are just some of the bulky, heavy and expensive equipment that must be safely secured but easily accessible from the van.
For the transportation of officers, speed is crucial. Most transportation vans carry a large amount of equipment such as riot protection gear, which requires highly specialised racking that is ergonomic, sophisticated and hassle-free. No time can be wasted fiddling around; everything from shields to helmets must be rapidly and easily accessible. The method of entry with all transport vans is key.
Not every being on the force is human: dogs are a valued part of the thin blue line. Van dog carriers are specifically modified to carry four to six dogs, and have air vents, a high level of sound reduction to soften the sound of barking and reinforced metal around the chassis to protect canine passengers.
The second main use for vans in the police force is logistics. While less common than transport vans – in the Lancashire force, there are around half as many as there are section vans – logistics vans require just as much specialised conversion, if not more. Often, these vans are the equivalent of a plainclothes officer, meaning they have no police marking. For stakeouts and covert operations, air conditioning and heating have to be integrated into the van for the comfort of those inside for hours or even days.
At an incident such as civil disorder, a large logistical van acts as a “mini hub” of operations. As a portable base, these vans offer officers whatever help and back up they may need. They must have sufficient space for satellite equipment, radios, an onboard generator, mains electrical system and chairs. Usually, technological equipment is fixed onto one wall, creating an office-like space inside.
More recent models are equipped with safes for taser guns and other weaponry and again, the method of entry must be sufficiently efficient so that officers have rapid access to whatever they need.
Incidents can turn ugly. It’s very important that a support or logistics van is properly prepped to take a beating. The structure of the van itself must be reinforced with high impact linings. Grilles over headlights and a retractable grill over windscreens stop missiles and makeshift weapons from smashing any glass.
Both transport and logistics vans need larger internal volume and a heavily increased payload. Extra conversion includes anti-slip flooring, internal LED lighting and specialised locking. In short, police van conversions require a dedicated amount of planning, implementation and maintenance, making them something of a wonder for van enthusiasts.