MSP Goes LED: Traditional Patrol Light Receives Modern Upgrade

An old, motor-driven Michigan State Police light.

Under Red "Bubble" Cover (Old): The old MSP beacon used motor-driven technology from the 1950s.

Since the 1950s, Michigan State Police (MSP) patrol cars have been adorned with a unique rotating red light on the roof. As the only state police department in the country to use this design, the single overhead red light is unmistakably identifiable to both Michigan residents and other law enforcement agencies. Many people often inquire about the "bubble" or "gumball" light and usually assume it is used today solely as tradition.

While the department is accustomed to this look, the benefits go beyond tradition. The single overhead light has been proven to enhance acceleration and performance. The nationally recognized Police Vehicle Evaluation, conducted by the MSP Precision Driving Unit, has found that vehicles with a full overhead light bar accelerate slower than vehicles with a single overhead light. Additionally, the reduced forward-facing surface area of the single light provides greater fuel savings when compared to the larger surface area of a light bar.

Just recently, the MSP "bubble" light underwent a makeover to improve its energy efficiency. Working with Whelen Engineering, a Brighton, Mich.-based firm, a prototype using Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) was developed. After nearly four years of research, development and testing, Whelen Engineering and the Precision Driving Unit produced a light kit that fits in the existing overhead light shell.

An old, motor-driven Michigan State Police light.

Under Red "Bubble" Cover (New): The new LED-based MSP beacon provides enhanced performance and has a longer lifespan.

The new LED overhead light produces an intense, wide-angle red light in all directions that only requires three amps to operate. Each kit uses 12 light heads, nine LED bulbs per head, for a total of 108 lights in each car; far more than most standard light bars. The LED bulbs have an 100,000-hours-of-use rating and a five-year warranty from date of service.

To reduce installation costs, current MSP patrol cars will be fitted with the new LED overhead light kits when there is a light failure. Since the LED lights are maintenance free and eliminate the need for heavy-duty wiring and special switches, the MSP estimates this will ultimately result in a cost-savings.