Crime - Sacto 911

New SUV patrol vehicles offer police more space, technology

Roseville police Officer Dan Wanamaker shows off drawers used to store equipment in the Chevy Tahoe patrol cruiser on Wednesday in Roseville.
Roseville police Officer Dan Wanamaker shows off drawers used to store equipment in the Chevy Tahoe patrol cruiser on Wednesday in Roseville.

Long a mainstay in law enforcement agencies, the venerable Ford Crown Victoria is getting ready to retire.

Police departments across the region are swapping the sedan patrol cars in favor of new, technology-laden, sport-utility vehicle patrol cruisers from Ford and Chevrolet as officers carry an ever-growing amount of equipment.

Sacramento police have five such Ford SUVs in service and will be adding 25 more this week, according to Sgt. Doug Morse, a department spokesman.

The SUV patrol cruisers are becoming increasingly popular after the last Crown Victorias rolled off the assembly line in 2012, replaced by the Taurus police interceptor, a smaller car. But the Taurus has largely been ignored because of its lack of space, according to local law enforcement.

“I was always very skeptical of the SUV,” said Roseville police Officer Dan Wanamaker, the department’s point person on the new vehicles. “But now, the SUV is becoming superior to the sedan.”

Ultimately, manufacturers were able to design an SUV that overcame concerns about rollovers and crashes, especially at high speeds that are commonplace in police work.

During a demonstration of the Chevrolet Tahoe on Thursday at the Roseville Police Department’s emergency vehicle operations course, Wanamaker showed off the patrol vehicle’s special automatic braking system that kicks in during quick cornering.

As Wanamaker swerved to avoid a series of cones, a buzzing sound signaled that one of the wheels had braked automatically to stabilize the vehicle and avoid a rollover.

“I can be a very poor driver and the vehicle will make up for it,” Wanamaker said.

In addition, the Tahoe features a backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity and an engine that switches between four and eight cylinders to save fuel. The cruiser is rated for up to 138 mph without police equipment, according to manufacturer General Motors Co.

Other agencies, including both the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, are moving to the Ford police interceptor utility, which is based on the civilian Explorer platform.

The Sheriff’s Department has 35 utility vehicles in operation, according to Keith Leech, chief of fleet services for Sacramento County.

“It gives them enough space with their gun belts and also the cargo they have to carry,” Leech said of the SUVs. “It really becomes a safety consideration.”

The transition to new police cars can take some time because of training requirements for officers. The vehicles also must be outfitted with department-specific gear and equipment, including emergency lights and computers.

SUVs are expensive, with prices hovering around $34,000, not including the fees to outfit the vehicle with police equipment that can run several thousand dollars.

Officials hope to recoup the price difference through resale values, since the SUVs are expected to fetch more at the auction house than sedans.

Police vehicles are typically replaced after five years or around 100,000 miles, though that can vary depending on the department and city budgets. Leech noted that the mileage can be deceiving because officers often have to idle their vehicle for hours during calls for service.

Aside from the flashy features, the sheer size of the vehicles will aid in police work, providing better visibility to the public, officials said. Prisoners, too, will benefit because of the sizable legroom in the cage.

“It’s quite a jump for us,” Wanamaker said.