The other day while waiting for the traffic signal to turn green at the intersection where Moffett Boulevard, Castro Street and Centra Expressway converge, a Mountain View police car approached and stopped at the opposing light. The police department is only a short distance away on Villa Street so it’s not unusual to see black-and-whites at that location. (Knowing that, I’m generally extra careful driving in that area.)
Since I was the first car on Castro, I had an unobstructed view of the patrol car that was first in the lane on Central, including the rear left passenger window. Taped to the inside of the window was a white cardboard type sign with black letters that read: "Out Of Service."
It struck me as odd.
I equate out of service signs with things not functioning or broken—things that aren’t working properly or facilities either temporarily or permanently unavailable. I’ve seen out of service signs on taxis and buses, vending machines and on washers and dryers in the laundromat. It used to be a common sign on payphones. (These days finding a payphone is uncommon.)
How many times has Bart been taken out of service due to faulty equipment? Public toilets and parking meters frequently have these signs on them. And what about websites with out of service messages? None of these strike me as odd. In fact I half expect these things to have problems.
But for some reason I didn’t expect to see one of those signs on a police car.
I called the business number for the police department and asked about it. The department spokesperson told me the sign was used to indicate a vehicle was not on active duty. Patrol cars marked out of service do not make traffic stops or issue citations. She said most likely, the car was being transferred from the maintenance yard back to a department parking lot.
Perfectly reasonable explanation.
When Mountain View’s first traffic officers were hired in 1918, they were expected to provide their own vehicles. During WWII, there was only one patrol car, and when the war ended it had racked up 300,000 miles and outlasted three engines. (Now that’s service over and above.)
Maybe I put the same expectations on the police that are often associated with the post office: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Somehow I fall into the category of assuming that police vehicles (and fire trucks for that matter) are somehow exempt from out of service issues. I guess I expect them to be ever ready, like the Energizer Bunny—able to continue operating indefinitely.
There’s a fleet of police cars available at any given time, and it’s good to know they’re being well maintained. The next time I see a patrol car with that sign on it, I’ll take it in stride.
For this citizen, the idea that our city’s "finest" are readily available to protect and serve the community in well maintained and functioning vehicles is a comforting one.