Sergeant Bob Phillips: Police Car Pioneer

Competitive testing for police cars

at deskI first met Sgt. Bob Phillips in the early 1960s, when he was supervisor of the Emergency Vehicle Operation Control Division of the California Highway Patrol. I was always impressed by his dedication to his job, and by his buying class A patrol vehicles based on competitive testing instead of low bids.

He was also the author of the first driver training manual, called "The Driver."

At one point, Bob took one of the police cars to the track near Sacramento, and for quite a few laps was able to lead the race, until the brakes would no longer take the abuse. That had to be a real selling point for the vehicle, its durability and speed, and certainly the skill that Bob Phillips had behind the wheel.

In 1966, the Dodge Polara won the test for the class A vehicle. Bob was instrumental in getting Chrysler to use their 365 horsepower, raised-block 426 cubic inch street Wedge, because the 440 Magnum was to be introduced the following year and the 426 engine would be discontinued. It turned out to be a great option for the CHP.

track

Bob Phillips and Emergency Vehicle Driver Training

The California Highway Patrol’s “hot training cars” were painted the CHP’s customary black and white, but instead of the shield emblems on the doors, they had big numbers like race cars. Closer inspection revealed that they would have safety harnesses, racing security straps on the doors, suspension modifications, reinforced wheels, and heavy duty front and rear axles and spindles.

In the late 1960s, Sgt. Bob Phillips, Director of Emergency Vehicle Operation Control (EVOC) Training for CHP from 1958 to 1972, took one of these training vehicles, a 1969 Dodge, to the Cotati Road Racing Course. To the amazement of a number of the race drivers present with their dedicated racing cars, we managed to turn lower lap times than they did for around three laps, at which point the brakes were simply not up to the task.

bob phillips

sergeant bob phillipsAnother time we took three officers to the track to see how their performance would compare to Sgt. Phillips’ times. They were five to seven seconds slower per lap with the same car. That reinforced his thinking that, although all three of the officers excelled on the track at Meadowview Road, when they had to drive a course that they were unfamiliar with they did not do as well, meaning they were not “reading the road.”

Sgt. Bob Phillips was known by many to be the “father of EVOC.” He used his skills to teach officers to drive safely and well at all speeds and under all sorts of conditions, and for training others to teach the same concepts to their students.

The rate of accidents per million miles for the CHP was just 7.15 in 1971 — by comparison, that same year, the Berkley, California Police Department had 64 accidents per million miles.

Plymouth Superbird as a police car

I lost contact with Bob when I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1970, but quickly realized a void regarding the testing of police cars. So, after purchasing my Plymouth Superbird, I drove to California, entered it into the parade at Ontario Speedway, and drove to Sacramento and spent a few days with Bob and his wife.

We decided to see how good the Superbird was when compared with the 1969 Dodge Polara, the fastest police car ever tested to that time. They did run well, but were no match for my Superbird on the road course or top speed.

superbird

Bob wrote class A patrol vehicle specifications, which included the top speeds needed to qualify for bid. The only requirement (at first) was that the vehicle must have a wheelbase of 122 inches or more, which eliminated Plymouth, Chevy, Ford and some other vehicles. Then, he specified that 115 mph must be reached at the end of 1 mile, 125 mph at the end of 2 miles, and 130 mph at the end of 3 miles. All the Dodges easily met these requirements.

After the compression was lowered and unleaded gas had to be used, these specifications had to be changed, to require that the vehicle must reach 125 mph and keep going at 125 for 50 miles without overheating. Many of the competitors did not meet this requirement.

eyeing the superbird

The 1978 Plymouth Fury with the E-86 package (440 magnum) attained a top speed of 132 mph, the last time a four-door police car would break 130 mph until the 1994 Caprice hit 141. These were all tested by the Michigan State Police.

The 2006 Dodge Charger reached 150 mph, making it the fastest four door vehicle tested by Chrysler since the 1969 Polara, which had an official top speed of 147 mph. Some actually reached higher speeds after a few miles were accumulated.

The Phillips-Horwege School

After Bob retired, he partnered with Glenn Horwege to create a driving school for police officers. The Phillips-Horwege Driving School was dedicated to police officer standards and training (POST); I attended it twice, and was impressed with the curriculum and with the skills that officers had to master to complete it.

Rex Sagle and Sgt. Bob Phillips

This school was held at Sacramento Raceway; Bob had to pay to have an extra road paved to be able to return to the main drag strip safely, and have the course designed so that speeds in the high-80s (mph) could be reached safely, and demonstrate how important proper braking and steering techniques are.

wet turns

The other part of the facility was at a huge parking lot owned by an aerospace company that was no longer in business, AeroJet General, in Rancho Cordova. All the skill development exercises and skid pad were located there.

The Phillips-Horwege school developed a training film that was narrated by Dragnet star Jack Webb. I participated in this and I thought it was a well scripted and effective training; Mr. Webb did a professional job. The only drawback was that some of the officers certainly were not professional drivers, but I think that is what they wanted to point out. (Most of the photos on this page are stills from that movie, which was shot on Super 8 without a tripod or stabilizer; a version of it is at the end of the page.)

sliding

Swift Dodge of Sacramento usually submitted the winning bid for the department. Bob told me some of the more intelligent salesmen working for that dealership realized that if they were having a problem closing a sale on a Dodge, most of the time all it took was to travel over to the CHP academy and let the prospective customer talk and, sometimes, ride around the course. This little salesman’s tool resulted in another Dodge vehicle being parked in that customer’s garage and on the street.

rex sagle

Bob worked with Jack McFarland, a Dodge PR man from Los Angeles. We formed a large Scat Pak club, which resulted in high car sales that allowed Dodge to take over third place, behind only Ford and Chevy, in the LA area. They told me that had never been done before.

We had highway patrolmen drive not only their own personal cars but some of the performance cars that Dave Schenck had in stock. We rented a tractor/trailor (flatbed) and drove the cars to Riverside International Raceway, attended the race, and were given permission to drive all of our cars around the track for five laps. Needless to say, sales for the performance vehicles increased in the next few months following the race.

police carsAfter completing my Driver Instructor’s Training at the Federal Law Enforcement Driver Training Program in Georgia, I helped to form a new organization that taught pursuit driving and highway response. It is called ALERT, Association for Law Enforcement Response Trainers [ALERT conference, 2012]. At one of our conventions I suggested honoring the father of EVOC training, and a man so dedicated to the training and the vehicle and the improvements needed for a vehicle that is required for this type of service — Sgt. Bob Phillips, who by then had passed away. I submitted film and documents to the board, but received little response in favor of honoring Sgt. Phillips. This was disappointing, and in my opinion was without merit.

Some people say that Bob could have been a great race driver, but what Bob Phillips did was more important. The law enforcement community and the automobile manufacturers have both benefited from his choice.

The video is from a film made at the California Highway Patrol’s Emergency Vehicle Operation Control course, which was later moved. The cars in the high-speed segment, a few minutes in, are 1969 Dodge Polaras with the 440 Magnum, which developed 375 hp. The rear axle was a 3.23 unit with 8.55x15 B.F. Goodrich police tires. The Polara 440 achieved a quarter mile time in the “low 15 seconds” with a quarter-mile speed of over 95 mph.

The red 1970 Plymouth Superbird shown in the film used the same engine, but was 500 lb lighter, used a 2.94 Sure-Grip rear axle, and had G60x15 belted tires with power steering. Quarter-mile speeds were in the mid-14s with a terminal speed of 102 mph. Top speed was clocked at 166 mph. Later, it was equipped with the 440 Six-Pack, a 2.76 rear, L60x15 tires, and a marine manifold with twin four-barrel carburetors, resulting in a top speed of over 180 mph, and trap speed of 107 mph in the high 13s. It was clocked by VASCAR at 191 mph going downhill, and at 153 mph returning up the same hill (6% grade).

Other than Rex Sagle himself, the people in the film were CHP EVOC instructors. Drivers are Sgt. Phillips, John Malnor, Ed Vinns, and Jim Krewson. The Super-8 film (made for the New Mexico State Police and Mounted Patrol) lost its original sound when transferred to video; Sgt. Joe Gadus and Doug Blevins of the Houston Police media production unit made the transfer with narration by Rex Sagle.

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