TAMPA — That car with flashing lights in the rearview mirror will soon have a new look, though baby boomers might think they've traveled back in time.
Starting this spring, Plant City police will rotate their aging Ford Crown Victoria and Chevrolet Impala cruisers with Ford Taurus interceptors painted in classic black and white.
Think a souped-up version of television's Adam 12 with the top and doors painted white and the rest of the vehicle black, including the rims. The department's Impalas and Crown Victorias are white with blue lettering.
"We're designing a car for the ages and black and white is classic and we can use that design far into the future," Sgt. Tray Towles said. "You can't mistake it for anything but a police car."
The first six cruisers are set to arrive in April. The department expects to replace all of its 85 cars — 65 cruisers and 20 unmarked cars — in about five years.
The move comes after a leadership change in January in which Chief Bill McDaniel moved into the newly created position of assistant city manager in charge of police and fire, code enforcement and information technology. He was replaced at the department by Capt. Steve Singletary.
Towles and other administrative-level officers approached Singletary in late December about the new vehicles. Singletary asked the department's employee advisory board to review available models and make a recommendation.
Though other models drove a little faster, the group settled on the Taurus, which came in about $1,000 more than the Impala but offered more room for officers and their gear. Officials ordered the new vehicles about a week ago.
"We also got some good feedback from Tampa police," Sgt. Al Van Duyne said. "The Fords are very reliable. A lot of it comes from Ford's background as a mainstay in the market. The Crown Vic was the workhorse for years."
Police departments usually replace their cars after 100,000 miles or seven years, though budget cutbacks have pushed those guidelines farther out to help departments save money.
At some point, though, rising maintenance costs make it impractical to retain a fleet of aging cruisers. Some of Plant City's cars go back more than 10 years.
Van Duyne said the department is looking forward to the roomier Tauruses. The Impalas are more compact up front. Adding a laptop and other devices can make it too cluttered for passengers, whether a supervisor or officer trainee. The Taurus also has more trunk space for weapons and gear.
While roominess was one reason the rank and file backed the new cars, another was that it simply looked cool.
"This car is black and white and it's tough," Towles said. "It's a tough looking car. That's also why the guys like it."
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.