More police departments choosing SUVs over sedans

The traditional police cruiser may be a thing of the past as more police departments and sheriff’s offices switch their fleets from sedans to large SUVs.

When Ford took the Crown Victoria — a standard police vehicle for decades — off its assembly line two years ago, law enforcement agencies across the nation had to make a choice when the time came to replace their aging fleets. A growing number of U.S. police agencies, including three in Butler County, are opting to buy sport utility vehicles, saying they get better gas mileage than the old sedans.

The city of Fairfield purchased four Ford Police Interceptor all-wheel drive utility vehicles earlier this month at a price tag of $105,960. That price includes a base cost of $25,000 per vehicle, plus $5,000 for a specialized police package that includes protective screens and mounts for laptops. They will replace four Crown Victoria cruisers with more than 100,000 miles on each of them.

“Since Ford no longer makes the Crown Victoria, we were looking for a new vehicle,” said Fairfield police Officer Doug Day. “The interior and the cargo carrying capacity of the latest line of police vehicles has not been satisfactory. We tried the Chevrolet Caprice with marginal success.”

Ford ceased production on the Crown Victoria in 2011, citing demand for better fuel economy. Crown Victorias managed 14 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, whereas the Ford SUV gets 16 in the city and 22 on the highway, according to Autoblog.com.

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The Chevy Tahoe, which is used by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, gets 15 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway, and The Caprice, used by the Middletown Division of Police, gets 15 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway.

Some might question if police agencies are wasting taxpayer dollars by investing in gas-guzzling SUVs. But a press release from Ford touts savings for taxpayers, especially considering police cars spend much of their road time idling. The engine in the SUV uses 32 percent less fuel than the Crown Victoria when idling.

“A 35 percent fuel economy gain during idling for a government agency with 100 vehicles would save taxpayers $153,300 per year with gasoline prices at $4 per gallon, if the vehicle idled for a minimum of three hours per day for two shifts,” Ford stated.

Day said Fairfield didn’t favor the Caprice because officers “carry a lot of gear and equipment in the vehicle and modifications had to be made when we transferred the gear from the retired Crown Victorias to the new Chevrolet Caprices.”

There were also financial advantages to purchasing the Ford SUVs for Fairfield.

“(The Caprice) is made in Australia and the lead time for purchasing was about eight months. For the same basic price, we could purchase the Ford utility vehicle, built in the USA, which has a much larger interior room and cargo carrying capacity,” Day said. “We learned that several agencies in the area have made the same decision.”

Hamilton police have also begun purchasing Ford SUVs.

“In 2011 and 2012 , we purchased the heir apparent from Dodge, Ford and GM: the Ford Explorer Interceptor, Chevrolet Caprice and Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Tahoe. Officers drove and offered evaluations of each vehicle, and the city shop was consulted concerning their observations on quality of manufacture and maintenance. Based on all these factors, the Ford Explorer was chosen, as well as the benefits of all-wheel drive and the size of the vehicle which gives added space for the extent of equipment that is carried in police vehicles,” said Hamilton Sgt. Ed Buns.

Those vehicles cost $25,000 per unit, and so far, Hamilton has five of them, the sergeant said. Even though SUV’s are known as gas guzzlers, the Ford Explorers the police use actually get better mileage than the old Crown Victorias, according to Buns.

“Fuel consumption on the Explorers is much better over the Chevrolets than the Caprices and Chargers, and is overall better than the older Ford Crown Victorias as a result of newer technology engines,” he said.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office chose the Tahoe based on a study done in Corpus Christi, Ind., which showed that those particular vehicles do well with rural work deputies often face, said Capt. Mike Craft. He also noted the Tahoes had a higher top speed and shorter braking distance. Tahoes have a retail starting price of $46,000 each.

“I think it’s more down to personal preference and the needs of a city versus the county. That makes a big difference. For us, the Tahoe made better sense,” he said. The sheriff’s office purchased four of those, although none are yet on the road. The majority of the sheriff’s vehicles — about 80 — are still Crown Victorias.

Middletown took a look at the Interceptors, but acting on the advice of their mechanics, decided to go with the Caprices instead, having eight of them at a cost of about $25,000, which is comparable to the Ford SUVs, said Major Mar2 Hoffman of the Middletown police.

The Chevys were a little less bulky, and they handle better,” Hoffman said. “Our evaluation of the SUVs was that they were so new, and we were a little leery of a first generation vehicle,” he said.

Middletown has about 27 marked vehicles, most of which are the old Crown Victorias. Middletown typically keeps cars for about three years before replacing them. Since police vehicles are driven 24/7, they take much more wear and tear than the average vehicle, Hoffman said. Middletown does have 4 SUVs in its fleet for two canine officers, a supervisor’s vehicle and an evidence technician vehicle.

The Caprices are not on the road yet, as they are being outfitted, but they should be on the road in 2014, Hoffman said.

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