The bad guys in Fresno County are going to have to get used to the look of a new sheriff car coming after them.
The Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, long the mainstay of the sheriff's office, is being phased out in favor of a sleek new Ford SUV that is quicker, has all-wheel drive and plenty of high-tech equipment.
The changeover comes because many of the Crown Vics have 200,000 miles or more on the odometer and Ford is no longer making the car that is an icon of law enforcement agencies across the country. The California Highway Patrol has also adopted the new Ford SUV, which have been appearing on streets and highways in greater numbers for several months.
The sheriff's office has purchased 48 of the SUVs -- still called Police Interceptors -- at a cost of about $26,000 apiece, according to Sgt. Tony Garcia, fleet manager. There are 22 on the street now and about two a week are added as they are outfitted.
Garcia said his office reviewed several police vehicles including the Ford SUV; a Dodge Charger; a Taurus-based Ford sedan that was smaller than the Crown Vic; and an Australian-made Chevrolet Caprice. The sheriff's office bought two Caprices, which have a reputation for being very fast but the disadvantage of being smaller and not as suitable for use in the varied terrain that deputies patrol.
Garcia said his office figures to save about $6,000 per vehicle in initial cost because a lot of the specialty equipment on the office's Crown Vics can be installed on its SUVs. Cook's Communications in Fresno is doing that work, which means the money is being spent locally. Sheriff's spokesman Chris Curtice said the office at one time had similar work performed in Texas but was not always happy with the quality of the work.
Deputies who drove the SUV during the decision-making process gave it a thumbs-up, Garcia said. The CHP also put the Ford SUV through the paces: according to the automotive magazine Motor Trend, the CHP requires its vehicles to hit 60 mph in under 10 seconds and 100 mph in less than 22 seconds, with a minimum top speed of 120 mph and the ability to maintain wide-open throttle for a minimum of 25 miles without damaging the engine or transmission. The magazine added that the CHP requires a brutal test of the vehicle's stopping power.
During a short test drive, Curtice demonstrated the zip of the SUV as its V-6 engine quickly brought it up to freeway speeds and showed its agility on surface streets. He said deputies will usually take the SUVs home with them, as they did with the Crown Vics. The sheriff's office believes that practice saves taxpayers money because deputies take better care of a vehicle that they always drive.
The SUVs join a sheriff's fleet of about 200 vehicles dedicated to enforcement, according to Garcia. The fleet includes Ford F-150 pickups that deputies who spend most of their time in the mountains drive because they have superior ground clearance.
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