Among retired Chula Vista Police Chief Bill Winters better qualities was that he wasn’t afraid of change or experimentation.
In the late ‘70s a lieutenant presented the idea that using Checker taxicabs as patrol cars would be cost effective in many ways. When Chief Winters heard this he was intrigued. The selling points were that the Checker Cab, manufactured in Kalamazoo, Mich., had more room than a regular police car, and a life expectancy of 200,000 to 300,000 miles compared to the regular vehicles that had to be scrapped after 80,000 to 100,000 miles.
Also, the box-like cars were rumored to be akin to military tanks, withstanding collisions that would dent or render regular patrol cars a total loss if involved in a crash.
The city purchased four Checkers at a cost of $8,500 each.The Plymouth Volares that comprised the rest of the fleet cost $7,300 each. City bean counters believed the longevity of the Checkers would pay off in the long run.
Once they arrived and were used, the uniformed officers hated the Checkers. Sergeants would assign rookies to drive them because the veterans refused. No one volunteered to take a Checker. The officers complained they were laughingstocks as people would point and laugh at them on patrol.
During the reign of the Checkers I was a detective in child abuse and sex crimes so I never had to drive them.
One evening I responded to an unfit home, and it certainly was. There was no food, but lots of roaches and filth you don’t want to know about. I removed the seven children and placed them in the Hillcrest Receiving Home (that would later move and be called the Polinsky Center).
If I admitted a child or children to Hillcrest I would drive them there myself to explain the situation to the intake social worker. Seven kids were too many to fit in my car so I drove them there in a Checker patrol car. It worked fine.
A Checker actually served as probable cause in making a stop on a car that proved to be carrying two armed robbers.
Dispatchers sent out a radio call that a store had been robbed and gave a sparse description of the getaway vehicle and direction of travel.
A patrol officer in a Checker parked by the side of the road and watched vehicles drive by. Although he had an incomplete description of the crooks’ car, he did pull over a car that contained the robbers and the loot. Was it mere luck?
In court the defense attorney challenged the officer’s probable cause due to lack of more complete information.
The officer told the judge, “I was sitting by the road and these two guys drove past and didn’t even look at me.
Everyone looks at me when I’m in the Checker. I knew these guys had spotted me and were trying not to look conspicuous. Their lack of looking was very suspicious.” The judge, who had seen the Checkers around town, agreed with the officer and the two crooks were taken off the street.
The death knell sounded for the Checkers when one was involved in a crash and had to be totaled. The striking vehicle was a tiny Datsun 240-Z car. So much for durability.
The lieutenant who came up with the Checker idea took considerable teasing and he tried to blame anyone else for coming up with the idea. It didn’t work.