Toronto police have asked the public to help redesign their new squad cars after an earlier model selected by the force caused some controversy — a reaction a police historian says has accompanied similar attempts in the last 40 years.
An online survey posted late Tuesday seeks input on everything from the base colour of the new front-line vehicles to the colour and style of the car's markings and the font of its motto — "To serve and protect" — which is currently written in cursive.
In November, Chief Mark Saunders halted the rollout of the force's new dark grey cars after some complained they weren't as visible as the current police vehicles, while others said the new vehicles looked like something from the military.
The Toronto Police Services Board then asked the force to consult with the public on possible design changes.
"It certainly seems to be a topic of conversation with everybody having a different opinion and that's the type of opinion that we want to get as part of the survey," said police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray.
"But it's time for a change."
Gray said the force's fleet management team came up with three new designs last year, all grey in base colour, with the chief selecting the one that prompted the public outcry. In total, 79 of the newly designed cars hit the city's streets, and Gray said there's no plan to have those vehicles redesigned.
The colour scheme of the current car — with a white base and blue-and-white striping and lettering — was introduced about three decades ago, she said.
"We heard the same negative feedback when we moved from a yellow car to a white car in the mid-1980s," Gray said.
Yellow is not one of the current base colour options in the survey.
Gray said the force will present the results of the survey at the Toronto Police Services Board meeting in May with a decision expected later for the look of more than 600 squad cars.
There will be no additional cost as the new design will only be applied to new cars that are replacing ones at the end of their life cycle, Gray said, which means it will take more than four years to change the design of the entire fleet.
One of the survey's 14 multiple-choice questions asks which characteristic respondents would most like the new-look cruisers to project. The answers include professionalism, visibility, community-orientation, authority, forward thinking or reassurance.
Squad car colours have long been controversial, according to Michael Sale, a retired Toronto police inspector and former police museum historian.
He said there were concerns when York regional police switched to a white police car in the mid-1970s.
"Everyone thought you'd never see it in a snow drift, so they originally ran a red stripe down the side and over the hood ... and they became known across the province as 'jam sandwich' because of their cars," Sale said.
"Sometimes when you switch things people get upset, like they did when police went from light blue shirts to black."
York regional police were early adopters of white cars, which other forces across North America then emulated — including Toronto, which switched from yellow to white in 1987, he said, adding that the current trend is a move to darker police cars.
"I think it's a shame how this rolled out," Sale said.
"Belleville police did it right by bringing out the new black cars to neighbourhoods and communities to get feedback and I think that proactive approach sold it with the public."