CLEARWATER — For decades, the Ford Crown Victoria has been America's standard police car, an unwelcome sight in rearview mirrors everywhere.
Now Ford has stopped making them, forcing law enforcement agencies to pick a different car. And they don't all agree.
Tampa police will be driving Dodge Chargers. Pinellas County sheriff's deputies will be climbing into Chevy Tahoes. St. Petersburg, being stubborn, stocked up on Crown Victorias, buying nearly 90 of them when the model was discontinued.
Tarpon Springs is mulling its options.
And Clearwater? After a lot of research and road testing, the Clearwater Police Department has decided to go with the Chevrolet Caprice. So has Largo.
Specifically, they're switching to the Chevy Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle, which has a V-8 engine, 355 horsepower and the ability to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds.
The Clearwater City Council recently voted to buy 13 Caprice patrol cars for $374,000, or about $28,770 apiece. They'll replace a bunch of older Crown Vics that have between 84,500 and 114,000 miles on their odometers.
Clearwater Police Maj. Daniel Slaughter, a 19-year veteran, answered questions from the Tampa Bay Times about the city's police cars.
Times: How many police cars does the department have?
Slaughter: The Patrol Division has 185 cars, of which 138 are Ford Crown Victorias. The remaining vehicles include a few specialty vehicles, such as motorcycles, SUV for K9, some trucks for our non-sworn operations, etc.
When will all the Crown Vics be replaced?
Vehicles are replaced based on mileage and maintenance costs … within our budget constraints.
What models were considered as replacements?
The department tested the Dodge Charger and the Chevy Caprice PPV. The department purchased two of each and allowed officers in the field to utilize each and provide feedback. Both vehicles were identified as having many positive aspects, and some negative aspects.
Representatives from the Chief's Equipment Committee initially recommended the Dodge Charger, but a review of Fleet Maintenance identified some service and reliability issues that tipped the selection to the Chevy Caprice PPV.
What makes a good police car? Acceleration? Reliability? Ability to take hard use? Storage space in the trunk?
In today's vehicle market, acceleration is not as important, as most vehicles have decent acceleration. Safety of the vehicle is a primary aspect in many ways. Not only is safety important from the perspective of crash mitigation, but in the form of braking and handling.
Space is also key, both in the trunk and in the driver area for a variety of reasons. As cars have become more compact, an athletic-built police officer wearing all the equipment that is required (gun-equipment belt, bullet resistant vest, etc.) can find the driver area quite compact.
Most vehicles for police service are preferred to be rear-wheel drive, because that vehicle design tends to fare better from having to go over medians, curbs, etc. V-8 motors tend to be more durable from the rapid acceleration involved in police work to catch up to traffic violators, etc.
How much do these cars get used?
There are some vehicles that are in use 16-18 hours a day for a total of 112-plus hours a week, but others that are used approximately 40 hours a week.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.