In the past few years, Lynchburg-area law-enforcement agencies have added new, stealthier options to patrol the streets and respond to calls — “ghost vehicles.”
So named because of the reflective, phantom-like decals that identify them as cop cars, these “ghosts” have been something of a recent trend with law enforcement, with the Lynchburg Police Department most recently adding two to its traffic safety unit this past fall.
Bearing internal light bars, they’re somewhere between a marked and an unmarked vehicle.
The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office has had one “ghost” on the road since 2017 — a dark green Dodge Charger that’s used to perform general traffic patrol duties, according to Capt. Brian Neal.
In December, the office converted a Chevy Tahoe from an unmarked patrol vehicle to a K-9 vehicle by adding “ghost” decals to it, he said. Since the SUV is purple, he said the usual wraps for the office’s white vehicles wouldn’t show up properly, so it opted for a more “aesthetically pleasing” option that would make for a vehicle that “stood out a little differently.”
“We wanted to give it some marking so it was clearly identifiable as a sheriff’s office vehicle,” he said.
The Lynchburg Police Department added its two “ghost” vehicles this past fall after receiving approval from Chief Ryan Zuidema in July, according to Carrie Dungan, LPD’s community relations coordinator.
The two SUVs, which replaced other patrol vehicles that were due to be rotated out, also bear additional emergency lights for added safety and visibility, she said.
Elsewhere, some law enforcement agencies have used “ghost” cars to focus on DUI enforcement.
Dungan and Neal said their agencies’ vehicles run the gamut of traffic enforcement, and Bedford County’s K-9 SUV responds to general calls for service as well as situations that call for a police dog.
Neal said state law requires an officer in a “ghost” vehicle be in uniform — although the definition of “uniform” depends on the agency, as long as the officer is displaying a badge.
The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office requires the deputies in those cars to be wearing a full, standard uniform while on duty, he said, though they can use them in civilian clothes for other job-related trips as take-home vehicles.
The department’s policy states if an unmarked car gets into pursuit, the deputy can continue until a marked vehicle joins the chase, Neal said. A semi-marked vehicle would fall in the middle, where it can take over a chase from an unmarked car, but a marked car would take over for it.