CINCINNATI – Cincinnati police are getting ready to say goodbye to a tested, tried and true friend: The CrownVic.
For generations of beat cops, the Ford Crown Victoria has been synonymous with policing. The two-ton, V-8, full-size sedan has been as much a part of the uniform as the gun, badge and radio. In 2011, Ford discontinued production of the quintessential cruiser leaving police departments across the country scurrying to find a replacement.
In Cincinnati, officers have spent the last 18 months test-driving three different models –- the Chevrolet Caprice PPV, the Dodge Charger Pursuit and Ford’s new Police Interceptor Sedan -- through the police paces to determine what car it will add to its 258-marked cruiser fleet. The new Ford resembles a Taurus.
The verdict: The department will ultimately end up spending more money – just under $1 million by early 2014 -- for a less roomy patrol car. The department expects the new patrol cars to roll in sometime in Spring 2014.
But that’s not all bad, said Assistant Police Chief Lt. Col. James Whalen. The needs of modern-day policing dictates a different kind of car.
“Strapping a rocket beneath these guys (officers) is not a priority for me, because of the nature of urban policing," he said.
Cop's Mobile Office
In years past, the department bought 20 to 25 Ford Crown Victoria Interceptors annually to add to its marked fleet. But calls for better fuel economy and performance slowed demand for the notorious cruiser. The Crown Vic averaged just 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 miles per gallon on the highway, a figure equaled by some large three-row SUVs today.
Cincinnati has been evaluating 10 of each vehicle over the last 18 months, looking for a cost-effective, comfortable and efficient solution to replace many of the timeworn police cars.
“These cars are on the road for 16 to sometimes 24 hours per day,” Whalen said. “It’s an officer’s mobile office, and they take a beating because of wear and tear and because they get driven hard.”
Whalen said about 67 percent of the vehicles in the fleet meet three criteria for replacement. All city vehicles must be more than four years old, exceed 100,000 miles and life-to-date repair costs must exceed 75 percent of the vehicles purchase value. Meaning, if a vehicle was purchased for $20,000, repair and maintenance costs must reach at least $15,000 over the life of the vehicle before it can be replaced. Police department mechanics even use parts for wrecked vehicles as a cost-saving measure.
"We cannot reconcile the need to replace vehicles with the budget available, so we make judgment calls on which cars to keep past their life-date, so that we maintain a sufficient fleet to service our needs," Whalen said." Obviously, we pick the best ones."
Andy Martin, automotive repair mechanic assigned to Cincinnati Police District 1, works on a discontinued Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO
Among the priorities for CPD is: Ample trunk space to accommodate the office equipment, a spacious backseat big enough to maintain a barrier between the front and back seats, and still have enough room for passengers.
The police department is authorized to spend $915,000 for new vehicles during the 2014 fiscal year, which started in July. That figure is up from $765,000 in 2012, $571,000 in 2011 and $662,000 in 2010. The entire sum is not only used for marked patrol cars, but also for detective cars, specialty vehicles, such as vans, motorcycles and trucks, Whalen said.
"We balance any special needs vehicles we need against our need for patrol cars and arrive at a number of each," Whalen said.
Beyond forking over the city’s money for new vehicles, which each will cost between $24,500 and $30,000, the police department retrofits the vehicles with another $14,225 in equipment in addition to $3,200 of labor costs. That brings the grand total of each new car to between $41,925 and $47,925. The cost for retrofitting vehicles comes out of different budget.
“The days of spending $2 million a year on cars are long gone,” Whalen said.
Instead, the police department spends a little more $2 million per year in fuel, said Sgt. Don Schroder, Whalen’s right-hand man in the support services section.
Next Page: A Look At The Cars
Caprice Police-Pursuit Vehicle (PPV)
The Caprice has 17.4 cubic feet of trunk space and 112 cubic feet of passenger space – more than the Charger and the Interceptor, according to the General Motors website. It has eight airbags, can reach a top speed of 147 mph and it averages about 18 to 21 miles per gallon. The discontinued Crown Victoria Interceptor had 20.6 cubic feet of trunk space and 106.4 cubic feet of interior passenger space.
The base price for the 2012 Caprice PPV was in the low $30,000s without fancy equipment, bid pricing or other discounts or extra expenses, according to various car websites.
District 1 Officer Tony Brucato, a 23-year veteran with Cincinnati police who’s driven all three vehicles, has been driving the Caprice for the last six months on his shift.
“I’ve got a lot more room in here compared to the other two, especially in the back,” Brucato said. “The Dodge is extremely limited in the backseat.”
The car's engine size is important because it must produce enough energy to power electronics while idling. Acceleration is important, but top speed is lower on the priority list.
“A lot of what we do is inner-city driving,” Brucato said. “Most of the time I’m out here on the two- and four-lane roads, for that it does great. If I’m out on the highway, might I need something with a little more power? Then, maybe.”
Dodge Charger Pursuit
The Charger Pursuit has 16.5 cubic feet of trunk space and 104.7 cubic feet of passenger space. The 5.7-liter engine can reach a top speed of 151 mph and averages 19 miles per gallon. The sticker price is $27,500, according to the police department.
Despite its sleek look and impressive speed, it’s a tighter fit for both officers and backseat passengers, said District 1 Sgt. Kenneth Isham.
“The backseat’s tight for any kind of prisoner that’s got any size to him,“ said Isham, a Cincinnati police officer since 1989. “As a two-man car, it doesn’t work, either.”
Officers complained of a limited field of vision out the front windshield because of the installation of mobile video recorders and the in-car camera system.
“If you were maybe 5’1’’ and sat lower in the seat, you may be able to see out, I certainly can’t,” Isham said.
Police Spc. Nate Young, far left, and Sgt. Ken Isham, stand next to one of 10 Dodge Charger Pursuit vehicles CPD officials are considering to purchase. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO
The Interceptor has 16.6 cubic feet of trunk space and 103 cubic feet of passenger space. Depending on two of the models Ford offers, its top speed is between 131 to 148 mph. The least expensive of the three cars, its base price is $24,900.
Despite inheriting the same name as its predecessor, the decommissioned Crown Victoria Interceptor, the two have little in common. The Crown Victoria was equipped with a 4.6-liter V8 engine, compared to 3.5-liter V6.
“We don’t have a need for a lot of horsepower anymore, but the engine that’s in this seems to have plenty of what we need it for,” said Spc. Nate Young, a 21-year CPD veteran. “In typical Ford fashion, it holds up, but it’s tight in here, but for some of the larger officers, it’s going to be a tight fit for them, compared to the old cars.”
Ford also offers a police sport utility vehicle, which CPD is also considering to add to its fleet, Whalen said.
"We are testing that one now to see if the troops like it," Whalen said. "I think they will as it offers a bit more interior room, and does not lack for any of the pluses the standard patrol cars have."