Fighting crime fast with Dubai Police’s supercar fleet
As anyone with an internet connection or television set anywhere in the world will tell you, in Dubai, the police drive supercars. Not for them the clapped-out Alfa Romeos seen in Italy or the Skodas used by traffic police in the United Kingdom. Oh no, in Dubai, where the streets are allegedly paved with Tiffany diamonds, the cops will chase you down in the world’s fastest and most expensive production cars.
Reaction to this phenomenon, which began in earnest just a couple of years ago, has been mixed. Young petrolheads and Jeremy Clarkson disciples think it’s the coolest thing ever, while detractors scoff at the amounts of money being thrown away. Others cry that the police driving around in Ferraris, Astons, McLarens and Bugattis will only encourage reckless driving in the emirate – almost a “honey trap” for speeding motorists.
So isn’t it about time that we got to the bottom of this, once and for all? To find out from those in charge whether this is all one huge publicity stunt (if it is, then surely it has to rank as one of history’s most effective), if it’s a vanity exercise or whether these incredible vehicles, replete with sirens and flashing lights, actually serve a valid purpose in law enforcement, as well as public safety? There was only one man to talk to: the person in charge of the department that operates the highest-profile fleet of official cars anywhere on the planet.
Colonel Mohammad Rashed bin Seray Al Muhairi, director of Dubai’s Tourist Police Department, is an extremely busy man. But he manages to take time out from his hectic schedule to sit down with The National to explain what his department is all about, as well as to sift through some of the global myths and hyperbole surrounding the fleet of police supercars that also falls under his remit.
A talkative, genial man with a gentle and welcoming demeanour, he appears to be more than happy that I’ve asked to interview him. He actually wants to figuratively throw open his doors, and show the world at large what this is all about. But before we start to go through details about the supercar fleet, perhaps he could explain what it is that the Tourist Police Department actually does.
“Many years ago,” he begins, “Sheikh Mohammed decreed that Dubai would become an important tourist destination. And while a good infrastructure was in place, we needed to help improve this. Everything that could be improved for the benefit of tourists was, and then he said he wanted Dubai to be ‘the best tourism destination’. This meant we needed to plant that feeling for anyone who visits here that they are safe.”
And that, he says, meant forming a dedicated section of the police force that would be in place to ease any problems faced by visitors, to help them if they faced difficulties – in essence, to let them leave with the best possible impression of Dubai.
It commenced in 2002, and Col Al Muhairi did his due diligence before setting up his department. To find out for himself what visitors to Dubai experience, including those vital first impressions, he visited the arrivals hall at the airport, hung around for a while, listened to conversations, picked up on any problems, observed the activities of people waiting in the arrivals halls (including those he calls “crooks”, and illegal taxi drivers) and allowed it to all soak in. This learning, it’s obvious from his questions directed to me as a westerner, has never stopped and probably never will. This is a man passionate about the public image of the emirate and country he serves.
He says he looked to the examples of other countries that already had established tourism-police forces, and learnt from their mistakes and successes.
“We need to show transparency,” he says. “To show that we are here for the good of all people – in the eyes of Sheikh Mohammed, everyone is equal, no matter what their race, skin colour or social background – and that is how we must be.”
One of the things “the Commander” had under consideration a while ago was running a patrol car that petrolheads could relate to, for use at Jumeirah Beach Residence – almost a show of strength that commanded respect from overenthusiastic drivers, visitors and residents alike. Again, this is something that has worked in other countries, so Dubai Police got itself a Chevrolet Camaro. Its drivers were carefully chosen to be as muscular as the car itself – a powerful message; a polite display of authority that, if you were sensible after getting into bother with the law, would require no explanation.
“When Sheikh Mansour got to see this, he said to us that he could get us something even better,” says Col Al Muhairi. That car, it materialised, was a Lamborghini Aventador. “Then we bought four or five cars, which belong to the police. Although we do not buy them in the normal sense, there are different deals.”
Is the department, I ask, ever “gifted” cars by manufacturers seizing the obvious global PR benefits of having their products in the fleet? He says not. “We have very strict rules about this, but we are able to work things out – not everything people say about us buying these cars outright is true.”
As he points out, luxury police cars in Dubai are nothing new. “When we started back in 1965, what were the first police cars?” he asks. “Mercedes. And then we had BMWs.”
As the car scene in Dubai has changed beyond all recognition over the ensuing decades, perhaps police supercars are more of a natural evolution than any of us give them credit for.
The fleet is continually growing, with each one added bringing additional worldwide news headlines. The latest, the futuristic hybrid BMW i8 supercar, is outside the colonel’s office, and, he says, it has its own recharging station adjacent to Dubai Mall.
It’s important to remember that these cars are used to patrol areas of Dubai where the majority of tourists spend their time – around Downtown and Dubai Mall, Jumeirah Beach Residence, along Jumeirah Beach Road. I’ve seen them with my own eyes, their blue lights illuminating the night having pulled errant motorists to the side of the road. And, yes, I too have been as excited as anyone else by catching a glimpse of a liveried Ferrari, McLaren or Audi R8.
Did you know that there are more women than men driving the fleet? Col Al Muhairi says the screening process is tough and that the female officers are proving incredibly capable. And when you’re piloting a car with more than 700hp, you need to be extremely careful and considered in your inputs. Being an accredited driver, he says, is something of a badge of honour for his officers, but only a tiny minority pass muster.
“We put them into tests. If you don’t pass, then you cannot drive,” he says. “We test them for safety, avoiding accidents, especially at high speeds – we blow the tyres on them. There’s a camera inside recording all reactions. There are very strict rules. People’s lives are very precious and they are at stake here – this is why the regulations are tough. The safety of people is what we keep in mind – it is our highest priority.
“Also, one of the biggest things on our mind is the fact that if one of these cars is in a crash, then the whole world will get to see. Pictures would be out there with lightning speed, and this would damage the image of Dubai, never mind just the police force.
“These crashes, where do they come from?” he gesticulates. “People, some of them tourists in cars like Ferraris they drive at home, drive with great speed. I’ve seen it with my own eyes: people speeding, lose control and hit the barrier between the two lanes. Then they fly to the other side and suddenly they are coming towards your face – how can you avoid being hit by this? I know it’s possible to avoid; this [scenario] happened to me and I’m still here. The officers who drive these cars also have these abilities – they are essential.”
He explains that officers are assigned to two or three cars maximum, and that they have to “have the knowledge”. In other words, they know everything about the cars they are driving.
“It’s no good tourists going up to an officer and asking him or her questions about the car and them not knowing the answers. They know how many there are in the world, where they are made, all the engine and performance details – everything.”
Despite it being a Hollywood blockbuster director’s dream, no police supercar has been involved in a high-speed pursuit.
“These high-speed pursuits are not allowed in Dubai,” he says. “There is more than one way to stop a speeding car. We don’t need to put the public at risk – we have a different system here.”
He goes on to tell me about the difficulties faced when adapting these often cramped and low-slung automobiles for official duties. “We never drill anything,” he says. “We work hard to find solutions without changing the cars, although they are fully kitted out.”
He also says that the on-site service facilities are the envy of some of the world’s most prestigious brands and that the entire fleet has been impeccably reliable.
But back to the fleet’s very raison d’être. “Do you feel safe in Dubai?” asks the colonel, as he leans forward to me.
I don’t even have to consider my answer. “With my work, I get to travel all over the world,” I immediately respond, “and I can tell you that I’ve never felt more personally safe than I do in this city.”
He smiles and leans back into his chair – he knows I’m not simply tickling his ears.
“I think, in Dubai,” I continue, “there is still that healthy fear of getting into trouble with the law that’s missing now in other parts of the world. And when visitors see the police patrolling the city in cars that they know full well will be able to outrun them – even if they have no intention of doing so – there must be an element of thinking: ‘What’s the point in breaking the law? I won’t be able to escape these guys anyway.’”
The supercar fleet is much more than a pretty public face. It does, I’m now convinced, serve a legitimate and worthwhile purpose, responsible for millions of Instagram posts and tweets, with the hashtag #mydubai at the fore. This is part of the overall plan for Dubai, helping to improve its public image and encourage people from all over the planet to come here, take a look around, tell their friends and, who knows, maybe settle here, for at least a while. If you catch sight of a police supercar yourself, I know you’ll be reaching for that phone to take a photo – even if you live here – and, in that sense alone, the fleet has done its job.
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Updated: April 30, 2015 04:00 AM