Times are tight all over the place as state budgets are being slashed. So if any police departments need an affordable alternative to a souped-up Dodge Charger or Ford Expedition, then this fun little electric police car might be just what the sheriff ordered. And if we don’t have any real boys in blue lining up for this fun cart, at least it’s got everything I need to make it the Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicle of the Week!
This electric cop car – or perhaps cop “cart” – isn’t going to win any style prizes at the county car show.
But I try not to judge a book by its cover.
Instead, I like to look deeper, considering a vehicle’s true potential.
And this car has crime-fighting abilities written all over. It just needs the right setting.
I think I may have the perfect one in mind, too. Won’t you join me for a few minutes this weekend morning?
[ripple transition indicating daydreaming sequence as the screen fades to reveal a much older me]
I crack my knuckles on the steering wheel as I cruise along in my faithful ride. I may be a grizzled veteran of the force now, but I was just a rookie many years ago when we first got our shipment of six Alibaba electric cop carts – the minimum order quantity on the site.
At $3,500 a pop, they were a lot more expensive than walking my beat, but the Chief knew we could cover more ground on patrols this way. Now, as the senior-ranking officer on the linoleum, I’ve got the largest area to cover — stretching from the Sharper Image on this corner of the mall all the way down to the far end of the food court. It’s a sprawling shopping center, and that means I need to be quick during emergencies.
“What emergencies could a mall cop face?” you’re probably thinking. Hey! We take our jobs seriously, I’ll have you know. It’s security professionals like me that keep you and your family safe and free to shop in peace and quiet.
It’s a thankless job, but one I’ve been proud to do for years. And over those years, I’ve driven the same cart. Betty is her name. I treat her well, always plugging her in to charge at night and remembering to wash and wax her at least once a week. Four seats and just over four horsepower is plenty for my beat.
It’s been a fairly quiet morning so far, almost too quiet. Just then, Betty’s radio crackles to life.
***ALL UNITS, WE’VE GOT A POSSIBLE 10-12 IN PROGRESS NEAR THE FOOT LOCKER, OVER***
“Vandals!” I think to myself.
I know I’m closest, so I grab the handset and respond, “10-4, Officer Toll responding now, out.”
I reach up and flip on the lights and siren as I mash the accelerator pedal down to the diamond-plate flooring.
In a flash, I’m rounding the corner as I see three skateboarders trying to knock over a vending machine.
“Stop right there!” I bark into the loudspeaker’s coiled handset.
The youths look up at me as I roll in on Betty. They release the vending machine, letting it fall back into place with a hard crash.
“Can it, old man!” yells one of the hooligans.
“Try and catch us!” taunts another as they mount their skateboards and take off.
They think they’re quick on their boards, but I know this mall like the back of my hand. As they make a beeline towards the nearest concourse, I take a shortcut behind the Auntie Anne’s, determined to cut them off at the pass using all of Betty’s 30 km/h (18 mph) top speed. I grab the parking brake lever in my right hand and yank it as I slow-motion drift around the pretzel kiosk, catching them off guard and knocking the punks off their boards.
I toss their boards in the back and detain the bruisers by the books, loading each perp into my little electric paddy wagon while protecting their head from hitting the plastic canopy on the way in. I’m not going to let these punks get off on a technicality due to sloppy police work – not on my watch!
I drive the four of us back to the mall cop office, where the Chief puts them in mall jail to await their parents’ arrival to pick them up.
The Chief slaps me on the back as we walk into his office. “Good work, Toll. Just three weeks from retirement, and you’re as sharp as ever.”
“Thank you, sir, but I was just doing the job I was trained to do.”
“That’s what’s made you such a good mall cop all these years. And speaking of training, we’ve just gotten our new rookie that will become your replacement. I want you to start the training immediately.”
My heart sinks. “But…but, sir. You know I’ve always worked alone.”
“Last I checked, Betty isn’t a one-seater, is she?”
“No, sir,” I say begrudgingly.
“Good, because I need your skills to get passed on to our new rookie. O’Connor is green and needs to be trained up and quick.”
“I understand, sir. I’ll always go where duty calls. Now, where is he?”
“She…” the Chief emphasizes the word. “Is waiting right outside.”
I step outside the office and see a young woman in a crisp new uniform leaning up against Betty, admiring the aging cop cart’s blue upholstery and police-edition 12-inch aluminum rims. Her long blonde hair is done up in a tight regulation ponytail. She looks more like a kid dressed up for Halloween than a true security officer.
“O’Connor, I take it,” I say as I approach and look her up and down. “What was your last gig, high school hall monitor?”
She doesn’t take the bait, staying professional. “I just graduated top of my class at the Academy, and I’m ready to learn from you.”
That says something right there. Mall Cop Academy is no joke. It’s the toughest two weeks of evening classes and one weekend of parking lot mall cop cart maneuvering exercises this side of the Mississippi River. I also graduated top of my class at MCA back in the day.
But I don’t let on.
“I imagine the standards aren’t nearly as high anymore. Most of you graduates probably spent half the time on your TokTiks and your InstaSpaces with your faces buried in your cellular smartphones. Your whole generation lacks the work ethic we had at your age.”
Again she keeps her cool. “In my book, when it’s time to work, the badge goes on, and the apps turn off.”
“Fine,” I huff. “Get in, O’Connor,” I add as I lower myself into the driver’s seat, the years of working this mall starting to show their wear on my joints. “And stay out of my way.”
The rest of the morning is typical for my beat. We reunite a lost kid with his parents, bust a shopper with a fake service animal and lay out cones from the back of my cart around a soda spill, all before lunch.
“Do we need to plug in the cart soon to charge?” O’Connor asks me midday.
“Hardly,” I scoff in return. “Betty is outfitted with a 72V 120Ah battery pack. That’s 8.6 kWh of capacity. She could run for days if I needed her to, but I still charge her every night to keep these ol lead-acid battery packs in tip-top shape.”
The two of us take lunch in the food court with the other mall cops. The scuttlebutt is that those three skateboarder punks I apprehended earlier in the morning have been picked up by their parents. That’s fine by me; I hope their parents throw the book at them.
We finish lunch and climb back into Betty to start our afternoon patrol. Each time we make a contact, I try to explain to O’Connor all the things that to me are pure muscle memory and instinct. You can’t teach experience, but I try anyways. “Write that down,” I tell her each time, only to see her whip out her phone and rapidly fill the screen with fastidious notes.
“Back in my day, we used paper and a No. 2 pencil,” I grumble to myself.
At the end of the day, we do our final sweep. I always take the last round after all the other mall cops head home. The mall is closed, but someone has to do a final patrol before parking and charging for the night, and that responsibility falls on me. If anything, I actually like the quiet and the eerie darkness of the mall after closing.
I’ve just brought Betty around to the charging point where I’m showing O’Connor the Level 1 charging procedure, made even trickier in the dimly lit night of the after-hours mall. But just as I plug her in, a shrieking laugh pierces the empty mall, traveling distantly through the maze of corridors.
“What was that?” O’Connor asks worriedly.
“Youths…” I respond, scowling.
“I’ll drive. I’m closest,” she says from her position, standing next to the driver’s seat.
“Like hell you will,” I bark as I run and jump onto the hood, executing a perfect slide across the freshly waxed plastic panel. She scrambles around to the passenger seat and barely manages to hop in, Betty’s wheels already screeching against the shiny floor in search of traction.
“Buckle up!” I grumble. “For safety.”
We’re off in hot pursuit, siren wailing and lights flashing as we start chasing down the source of the taunting laughter. The dark mall is now lit in intense strobing blue and red as I careen the cart around a phone repair stand and then a kiosk hawking Dead Sea beauty products. That’s when I hear the telltale sound of small diameter skateboard wheels on the linoleum.
“They’re back!” I exclaim, knowing it’s the same three hoodlums from earlier in the day.
O’Connor reaches for the radio. “I’ll call it in!”
“To who?!” I yell as we take another turn on two 12-inch wheels, O’Connor dropping the radio to hold onto the plastic canopy for support. “We’re alone now; the rest of the unit has gone home. It’s just us!”
As we pass the Build-A-Bear Workshop and enter the main atrium, I see the three skateboard punks climbing on the coin-operated kid’s toys.
I grab the loudspeaker handset and shout to them, “The mall is closed! Stop! Stop at once!”
“Make us, old man!” they jibe back.
I pull forward slowly as I approach the youths, ready to put them in their place. But that’s when I see it, a moment too late. The laughing has become louder despite the three thugs standing there tight-lipped. In my haste to apprehend the hoodlums, I forgot to check my six. I quickly throw the cart in reverse, but the backup camera’s image shows me a line of at least a dozen more skateboarders behind me.
I glance to the right at O’Connor and see the scared look in her eyes. Then my gaze focuses beyond her to another group of skateboarders behind her. I spin back around to my left side and see even more skateboarders emerge from the shadows.
They’ve outflanked us, and now we’re surrounded. There are dozens and dozens of them forming a ring.
They raise their skateboards over their heads as they slowly approach. The circle around us is shrinking. I look down to the aging, tattered photo of my wife taped to the dashboard. I never thought it would end like this. But she and I both knew the responsibilities when I signed up for the force. And I knew the dangers every morning when I put on the uniform.
If it’s my time then it’s my time. I’ll go out like a professional, maybe even get my own memorial plaque on the wall of the break room.
That’s when I hear the seat belt unbuckle. I look over and see O’Connor pulling off her restraint. “Follow my lead,” she tells me as she whips out her phone and straps it to the loudspeaker’s handset with a rubber band holding down the broadcast button.
Terrible music fills the air as O’Connor hops out and stands next to the cart. She begins an odd, disjointed dance routine. It takes me a minute, but I recognize it as one of those damn TokTiks I always see those darned young bloods doing by the main fountain.
I look from her back to the hoard. The perplexed youths are slowing their advance.
O’Connor hisses at me, “C’mon!”
I hop out and join her, mimicking her moves. I’m awkward and uncoordinated next to her, but I hold my own as I follow her lead. Back in my day I could cut a rug at the discotheque.
Several seconds pass that feel like a lifetime, but then the leader of the punks lowers his board. Then he joins in the pre-choreographed dance too, and soon the skateboarders to either side also join in with the same moves. Eventually, we’re all dancing as the hoard drones: “One of us! One of us! One of us!”
Then as quickly as the youths had come, they disappear off into the shadows. I’m still awkwardly dancing as O’Connor walks back to the cart and pulls her phone off the handset. The abrupt end to the awful music brings me back.
“You ok?” she asks me.
“Yea,” I respond slowly, shaking my head. “I just…” my thought trails off, not sure how to make sense of what just happened.
She gives me a minute.
“You know what, O’Connor?” I say to her. “You’re all right.”
“Thanks, Toll. You’re all right yourself.”
“Let’s head back,” I say as I toss her the keys to Betty. “Why don’t you drive?”
She smiles as she catches the keys.
We both hop in one last time – this time as partners. We laugh together as we roll back towards base, the sheared-off extension cord dragging its jagged edge along the floor behind us.
Just another day in the life of a mall cop. Just another day.
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