A police car (also called a police cruiser, cop car, prowler, squad car, radio car, or radio motor patrol (RMP) ) is a ground vehicle used by police for transportation during patrols and to enable them to respond to incidents and chases. Typical uses of a police car include transporting officers so they can reach the scene of an incident quickly, transporting and temporarily detaining suspects in the back seats, as a location to use their police radio or laptop or to patrol an area, all while providing a visible deterrent to crime. Some police cars are specially adapted for certain locations (e.g. traffic duty on busy roads) or for certain operations (e.g. to transport police dogs or bomb squads). Police cars typically have rooftop flashing lights, a siren, and emblems or markings indicating that the vehicle is a police car. Some police cars may have reinforced bumpers and alley lights, for illuminating darkened alleys.
The first police car was a wagon run by electricity fielded on the streets of Akron, Ohio, in 1899. The first operator of the police patrol wagon was Akron Police officer Louis Mueller, Sr. It could reach 16 mph (26 km/h) and travel 30 mi (48 km) before its battery needed to be recharged. The car was built by city mechanical engineer Frank Loomis. The US$2,400 vehicle was equipped with electric lights, gongs, and a stretcher. The car's first assignment was to pick up a drunken man at the junction of Main and Exchange streets.
Decommissioned police cars are often sold to the general public, either through a police auction or a private seller, after about 3–5 years of use. Such cars are usually sold relatively cheaply due to the extremely high mileage on such cars, in some cases exceeding the 300,000-mile (480,000 km) mark. In some cases, the cars are re-purposed as a taxicab as an inexpensive way for cab companies to buy cars instead of fleet vehicle services. In all cases, the cars are stripped of their police markings as well as most internal equipment; however the engines are usually left intact, and are often larger engines than their civilian counterparts.
A response car is similar to a patrol car, but is likely to be of a higher specification, capable of higher speeds, and will certainly be fitted with audible and visual warnings. These cars are usually only used to respond to emergency incidents, so are designed to travel fast, and may carry specialist equipment, such as assault rifles, or shotguns. In the UK, each station usually only has one, which is called an area car.
Some police forces do not distinguish between patrol, response and traffic cars, and may use one vehicle to fulfill some or all roles even though in some cases this may not be appropriate (such as a police city vehicle in a motorway high speed pursuit chase). These cars are usually a compromise between the different functions with elements added or removed.