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Deputy brings lights and sound to police cars

News editor

Mike Ottensmeier stood in his garage near Hillsboro Cove on Sunday contemplating a puzzle presented by a new Ford police interceptor brought to him by the Park City police department.

When he isn’t patrolling Marion County as a deputy for the sheriff’s department, Ottensmeier outfits police cars and other vehicles with emergency lights, sirens, and video equipment. The problem with the Ford: the siren speaker didn’t fit behind the front bumper of the car where Ford said it should go.

A repurposed bracket from a Crown Victoria and trimming the grill eventually worked, as Ottensmeier pushed to meet a self-imposed deadline.

“Wesley Medical Center is supposed to be here Tuesday to bring one of their security vehicles in,” he said.

His new part-time business, LEO Upfitters, has its roots in the Royal Air Force Upper Heyford air base, about 70 miles northwest of London, England. In 1988, fresh out of Marion High School, Ottensmeier joined the Air Force and was shipped overseas as a police officer.

“The very first military police car I sat in, the radio was just a bracket bolted to the floor, there were a couple of other things bolted to the floor, and there were a couple of switches off-center on the dash,” he said. “I’m driving around one day and said, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this.’”

He created a design that he took to his sergeant, who was open to the changes. Ottensmeier had never rewired a police car, but was provided with everything he needed.

“I did it, they liked it, and so they said they wanted me to do all of them,” he said.

That included four-wheel drive pickups as well as police cars, between 25 and 30 vehicles.

“By the time I was done with all those vehicles, it didn’t matter what vehicle you got in, every switch was in the same spot, every radio was in the same spot, and every switch did the exact same thing,” he said.

When he started with the sheriff in 2009, Ottensmeier volunteered to look at upgrading the department’s vehicles.

Much of the equipment dated from the 1980s, Ottensmeier said. Replacing broken switches and bad circuit boards with new ones would be as cost-effective as trying to repair them. Using connections with manufacturers, he got equipment discounts up to two-thirds off the retail price on items such as new light bars.

“We’ve been extremely careful with the taxpayers’ money,” Ottensmeier said.

Word of his talent spread, and he was soon working on other county vehicles. Other officers brought cars with electrical problems to him. All of it he did because he enjoyed the work and wanted the vehicles and their occupants to be safe.

The tipping point came last year, when Park City came to him with two new SUV’s and $10,000 of new equipment for each.

“Leah, my wife, said, ‘You really need to start getting paid for this,’” Ottensmeier said. “As soon as those two vehicles were done, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing.”

Ottensmeier has trained to do all of the typical components of a police car “upfit” — lights, sirens, radios, and video systems, as well as prisoner cages. He customizes installations to fit individual requirements, including working within budget limits that often require reusing older equipment on new vehicles.

He’s worked on fire equipment for Hillsboro and Roxbury, and installed a radio system in a truck for Barkman Honey. A construction company in Dodge City has contacted him, as have law enforcement departments in northwest Kansas, he said.

Although he has repaired two ambulances, he said he prefers to leave those to someone else.

“A lot of those ambulances are built from the ground up, and all those electronics run through a master central computer system,” he said. “I’m not going to dabble in that because a lot of the patient care stuff also is plugs into those same circuit boards.”

Ottensmeier said “if you treat them right, they will come,” and the number of vehicles coming to him from out of the county attests to that.

“It’s starting to become a second job,” Ottensmeier said. “Sometimes I ask myself if I didn’t get into the wrong line of work. Don’t get me wrong, I like being a policeman, but I really enjoy doing this.”

Last modified April 1, 2015

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