Can police officers drive their cars?

In general, police officers can’t use their vehicles for work. There are exceptions within the United States, most specifically Hawaii. Honolulu subsidizes officers with around $600 a month to use specific types of cars as their patrol vehicles.

Except for the Honolulu Police Department, most police officers aren’t allowed to use their car as their patrol vehicle. There are many other tools, and equipment officers must personally buy and use on the job. Depending on the department, some gear is provided. The station or agency you work for will issue a list of criteria for what is needed. Many agencies offer a monetary stipend to purchase gear, including weapons and bullet-resistant vests.

Many police officers are required to buy their gear, even if most don’t have to buy their police vehicles. Things like uniforms and radios are standard issue for the most part, but there are some things which a police officer will have to buy out of pocket. Like with most things involving law enforcement, general rules and regulations are set forth by the state. More specific guidelines and practices, like vehicle use, are usually made by counties and departments. Budgets affect small and large departments alike regarding what they can provide their law enforcement officers in terms of tools and equipment. As a new officer, you may have to buy anything from an upgraded trauma-plate for your bullet-resistant vest to flashlights and mace. The list of criteria varies, but there are some general guidelines and standards.

Police Vehicles

Most departments maintain a fleet of vehicles assigned to officers for daily use. These vehicles are used 24 hours a day, seven days a week by multiple officers. Along with radios, cars are one of the standard-issued pieces of equipment law enforcement officers will use. The take-home car program is a common practice, especially in smaller departments. Personal cars are rarely used in police work, though one city has a subsidy program where officers buy their vehicles and use them as police cruisers or other law enforcement needs.

Called an interceptor, patrol car, cop car, or squad car, police vehicles are the number one tool for any officer besides the handcuffs. They need to be tough, well-maintained, and dependable. Below are two of the more unique programs where officers have more buy-in for what and how the car they drive is personalized while on duty:

Honolulu, Hawaii: Subsidized Police Vehicles

Can police officers drive their cars?

Mentioned explicitly due to the program’s unique nature, many Honolulu police officers own their patrol vehicles. Very few departments in the United States offer the type of program this city utilizes with their police cars. Some smaller departments around the country may implement such a subsidy, but this department is the largest. Started in 1932, this program came about to foster self-reliance.

Some things to consider if you’re using a subsidized vehicle in this particular department:

  • Your vehicle has to meet certain specifications to be considered, like wheelbase, engine size, and fuel type.
  • Typical usage is eight years per vehicle.
  • The department limits the makes and models that can be bought.
  • There are different registration regulations if you’re using your vehicle as a police vehicle.
  • The department will install police equipment like lights and radios.

Take-Home Car Program

This program is becoming more common and is where police officers are issued work vehicles that they take to their homes on off-duty hours. It increases response time, reduces wear of the car, and increases police presence in neighborhoods. One of the other benefits to officers is that it reduces maintenance and fuel in their vehicles. Departments tend to like the accountability factor.

Some of the more common guidelines set out by agencies are:

  • Limited radius off-duty from the home station unless authorized.
  • Budget for maintenance and cleaning is provided, but officers assigned to the car are responsible for upkeep.
  • No alcohol or tobacco products in the police car.
  • Only immediate family members are allowed to ride along on non-duty business.
  • Gear should be stored in the residence if parking a marked vehicle in the driveway.
Can police officers drive their cars?

Different agencies may add or delete criteria from this list, especially in the bigger cities. Check with your department for specific qualifying factors.

In the majority of cases, you may not have to buy your police car if you go into law enforcement. There is gear police officers do commonly buy.

Are police cars bulletproof? Find out HERE!

Gear Belts

Department issued gear is often used and worn. Many departments will issue a modest stipend for purchasing new items, such as uniforms and safety equipment. Due to budget, the amount may not be enough to buy everything necessary, especially in smaller departments and agencies. Some items could also be issued at the academy but not be top of the line. Here are some everyday things police officers will buy out of pocket:

  • Handcuffs. Though the department usually issues these, many officers carry different kinds, including zip ties and an extra pair just in case.
  • Leather or Nylon Gear. Leather or nylon gear belts and cases for different items if an officer wants items more customized and of higher quality.
  • Holsters. As long it meets most agency standards of being a Level 3 holster, officers will opt to buy a more custom made holster.
  • Bullet Resistant Vest. Most departments will provide this vital piece of equipment, but they are expensive and have an expiration date. Officers will often upgrade the trauma plate in any issued vest on their dime.
  • Uniforms. Departments may supply a limited amount of uniforms. If officers would like more than the issued amount, they will need to buy them.
  • Miscellaneous. Flashlights, batons, and mace are also often bought by the officer.

Larger departments will usually issue part or all of the gear mentioned above. Smaller departments with budget constraints may require you to furnish most of your own. Many officers claim that buying your equipment can be beneficial because it is tax-deductible, and you can take it with you if you change departments. The downfall is often the immediate expense out of pocket.


Many officers like to carry their weapons while on duty as they are usually more comfortable and have more practice with them. Most departments and agencies will allow this with some caveats, like an authorized caliber, and qualifying with it on the range. The high majority of major departments will not allow the use of personal firearms. You are only allowed to carry what they issue.

Some things to consider:

  • Ammunition. Most departments will supply ammo for on-duty carry. This means if you are going to carry extra clips, you may have to buy extra ammunition yourself.
  • Back-up weapons. The policy on back-up weapons varies by department and personal preference. If you carry a back-up, it is most likely going to be a personally owned weapon.
  • Extra Rifle/Shotgun. Some departments allow a personal shotgun or rifle in a police cruiser for specific situations.
  • Holster. There are different levels and types of holsters. Departments may require a certain level of the holster, like a level 3 retention holster. Check the criteria per station. Many officers will buy upgraded holsters for safety reasons. Retention holsters are becoming more widely mandated among law enforcement.
Can police officers drive their cars?

Any gun a law enforcement officer carries need to be shot and qualified at the gun range. This requirement ensures officers get enough target practice and experience when first starting out. Check with the range master at any department for more information.

Law enforcement officers do end up buying much of the equipment and gear they use. Though most do not have to buy their police car, items like gear belts, handcuffs, and extra clips are usually purchased by the officers.

Related Questions

What is standard gear for a police officer to carry?

While a patrol car, weapon, and handcuffs are usually considered the most common, police officers will carry other trade tools as well.

Some of these include:

  • Taser
  • Flashlight
  • Radio
  • Baton
  • Mace
  • Knife
  • Handcuffs
  • Extra clips

Why do police officers bring their patrol cars home?

Most often, departments use this practice as a benefit that replaces a raise in pay. It also increases accountability in the maintenance and care of the vehicle. Parking police cars in neighborhoods are also good at increasing the visibility of police presence. Departments and officers alike have noticed mileage accrues slower in take-home vehicles since they are not being run 24/7.

Why wouldn’t a police officer want to drive their car on-duty?

There is an increased cost due to more maintenance, and not every department would be able to offer enough reimbursement for fuel and other expenses. Plus, criminals can make messes in the backs of police cars, and personal vehicles aren’t equipped with the ability to easily clean things like vomit and other bodily fluids from their seats.

Related Articles

CPAT Orientation, What Should I Wear?

To learn how to best prepare and study for your police exam click here.

Free civil service guide. Click here to learn more: 

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.