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Why do D.C. police cruisers have “running” flashing lights? Doesn’t that just give them away? And why are they white in the front and blue and red in the back?

A few years ago, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey visited Israel. After he landed, one of the first things he noticed was that the Israeli police cruisers patrolled with running flashing lights to increase their visibility and make residents feel safer.

“In a place with car bombings and other terrorist attacks putting people in a near-constant state of fear, the police lights provided people a sense that the police presence was felt,” says Assistant Chief Brian Jordan.

So when Ramsey returned to the District he initiated a policy that encourages every marked police car to patrol with their flashing lights in order to make District residents feel safer, as well as to counter District residents’ gripes that “We never see the police,” says Jordan.

Exceptions to the policy do exist, including when making their presence known could jeopardize an arrest.

The policy did require some tweaking, Jordan says, since most newcomers to the District are unaccustomed to police patrolling with their lights on. That’s why the police removed the colored bars from the front of their lights.

“We needed to make sure people knew that a police car patrolling was not an emergency,” says Jordan, noting that at first, residents were often confused and pulled over whenever they saw a cruiser with its lights on.

Whether the policy actually makes a difference is debatable, says one officer who declined to be named. “If the chief wants it done, we’ve got to do it—he feels that it’s working,” he says.

Every Monday, the ‘Huh?’ Bub takes your questions. Got one?