ST. PETERSBURG — A year after a clash over gas-guzzling police cars, a City Council member is claiming what may seem like a victory for the Earth.
The City Council approved more than $1.1 million last week to buy 47 Chevy Impalas for the police department. Council member Karl Nurse declared it a triumph for environmentalists.
"This is the first time that we've followed the mayor's order to buy the most fuel efficient vehicle available," Nurse said during the meeting.
Last year Nurse balked at buying nine Crown Victorias, a traditional police car that gets 16 miles per gallon, after Mayor Rick Baker announced that the city would buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.
"Short of the Hummer, it was the least efficient vehicle," Nurse said.
But a police department report says the new Impalas get only 1 mile per gallon more than Crown Victoria.
And it wasn't ecological concerns that drove the choice as much as economic, police Chief Chuck Harmon said. The Impalas will save the city up to $130,000.
"It wasn't just on Karl's whim," Harmon said. "It was based on analysis done by my folks and the fleet folks."
Last year, Nurse drew a line in the sand.
"These will be the last Crown Victorias anyone will be buying," he said then.
He was right. Harmon said Ford plans to phase out the Crown Victoria in the next two years, making the cars impractical.
Nurse said the city should give all non-911 responders, including Harmon, more fuel-efficient cars. Clearwater police have several Toyota Priuses, a popular hybrid car that gets 46 mpg.
"There's a whole lot of people that are never doing chases that could be in more efficient vehicles," Nurse said.
But just because a car is not being used for patrol at the moment, it could be later. Police cars are rotated between patrol and administrative workers to distribute mileage.
A patrol officer can't drive a Prius, Harmon said.
"We want to be as economical as we can be, but we still need a vehicle that would meet our needs," he said.
Nurse said he will continue to fight for environmentally friendly choices.
"Life is a game of singles," he said. "And this is a single."
Jackie Alexander can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or firstname.lastname@example.org.