FAIRMONT - When the tried-and-true Ford Crown Victoria sedan was retired by Ford, police across the nation needed to find a new squad car.
"We took a lot of time and researched this," said Fairmont Police Sgt. Lowell Spee, fleet manager for the police department. "A lot of thought went into this."
While the Martin County Sheriff's Office began making the switch to Dodge Chargers several years ago, the police department waited a few more years. Once the Crown Victoria was no longer being manufactured, the department began to research its best options.
NEW?LOOK?— The Ford Utility Police Interceptor, specifically built for law enforcement, will be the future go-to vehicle for Fairmont police.
"The Crown Victoria was past its prime as newer vehicles go," said Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma. "The first time it was indicated was in 2005 when Ford announced that after 2007 it was going to stop producing Crown Victorias, and there was nothing else to replace that as a viable choice at that time."
"We kept on using Crown Victorias, because we could keep using the existing equipment," Spee said. "We could re-use equipment like the cages, emergency lights and grills. It saved on costs. We've had to do some updates."
The final decision was to switch to a Ford Utility Police Interceptor, based on the Ford Explorer but designed specifically for law enforcement.
"There is a long list of selling points, and I found I kept saying, 'Really?' a lot," Brolsma said. "I know I had the mindset of an SUV-type vehicle being a gas guzzler, but these have the same miles per gallon as a Ford Taurus; they're even better than the Crown Victorias."
"The selling point was that they were 20 percent better than the Crown Victorias," Spee said. "They were wrong. It's actually 40 percent. With these vehicles constantly on the go, the Crown Vics get about 10 miles per gallon. That's with all the idle time and go time. So far we've gone about 7,200 miles in the Utility, and it has a digital monitor, and it shows an average of 14.2 miles per gallon. It may not sound good compared to private use vehicles, but that's remembering that these vehicles are constantly going. We put on a lot of miles and we have quick performance needs. Our primary squad cars put on 2,500 to 3,000 miles a month, so we hit 100,000 miles in about three years."
Other selling points include a bigger back seat and wider back doors to deal with larger and combative transports. The cages installed include a divider to keep two transports in the back separate from each other.
"The front seats are designed for police gun belts and radio," Spee said. "The backs have more lumbar."
There is also a specified place on the dash for radio and video insertion, which frees up some visibility in the squads.
"The higher visibility for safe driving is a big deal," Brolsma said.
The Utility is also an all-wheel drive vehicle.
"We had stuck to rear-wheel drive all these years," Brolsma said. "There have been times when we couldn't get to a call in the winter."
And with winter coming, another new feature will be of value with the climate-controlled storage for first aid and defibrillator kits.
"In the Crown Victoria, they're carried on the floor of the passenger's seat," Spee said. "We've had cases in the winter where the defibrillator wasn't charged up because it wasn't warm enough. Plus leaving it on the floor and having snowy boots get in, the case sometimes get wet and salt gets on there. That's obviously no good."
Mechanically, the Utility has an enlarged radiator for a longer engine life, a larger 200-amp alternator, and the largest disc brakes in the industry.
"That is important for the performance stops we sometimes need to do," Brolsma said. "We also have the keyed-alike option, which means we don't have to go looking for the right keys for the right squad, which is important since we have rotating squads. It's little things like that that end up meaning a lot."
And surprisingly, the Utility costs less than the Ford Taurus with an eco-boost.
"We also lease our vehicles versus purchasing them," Spee said, as he showed a thick stack of repair records for one of the current Crown Victoria squad cars. "This was $8,600 worth of repairs in a three-year period, after the 36,000-mile warranty was gone. With leasing vehicles, there is no costs for these repairs or services. Leasing versus purchase saves about $9,795 per vehicle. That's good for our department and good for the taxpayers."
Currently, the department only has one Utility, but the department will order more as the other squad cars near the end of their leases or need replacing.
"It's kind of a no-brainer now," Brolsma said. "It was good to wait ... It's a big jump for us to go away from the Crown Victorias, but the new generation of squads made some big in-roads in our purpose-built vehicles."
"If the Crown Victoria had not been discontinued, chances are, we'd still be using them," Spee admits. "They're kind of like an old shoe; you're used to them. But times and cars change, and we need to change with them."