Raleigh police replace Crown Vic patrol cars with new models

akenney@newsobserver.comApril 1, 2014 

— The Raleigh Police Department is sticking with Ford – kind of.

After nearly three decades with the company’s Crown Victoria, the department has chosen the Ford Police Interceptor sport utility vehicle as one of three new blue-and-white patrol cars. It also will add two other as-yet-undisclosed vehicles to its fleet as it replaces the discontinued and beloved Crown Vic.

Department officials plan to show off the new cars and explain their decisions at a media event in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday. In the meantime, officers across the city are preparing for the long goodbye to a model that has been in service in the city for at least 25 years.

“Some of the younger officers that have only been around for a few years – they’re excited for the new vehicles, as most of us are,” said Lt. T.S. Jordan. “But anybody who’s been doing this job for 10 years or more ... we’re sad to see (the Crown Victoria) go. To think that someone was able to produce a vehicle that was relevant for almost two decades is probably unheard of in this day and age.”

Like practically all of the city’s officers, Jordan started out driving a Crown Vic. The department adopted the classic in the mid- or late ’80s – officials aren’t sure exactly when – and today keeps about 450 in its fleet.

The Crown Vic that debuted in the 1980s was all boxy lines and sharp diagonals. It was quickly adapted for police use, and it was the getaway car in countless real and cinematic scenarios.

Across the years, the car has seen only two major body changes, according to Jordan – and the style debuted in 1998 is still rolling up and down around the capital city.

“Obviously, some of the other manufacturers have introduced vehicles over the years that were used by law enforcement – the Caprice had a decent run – but ... certainly the Crown Victoria is known as the staple vehicle for law enforcement,” Jordan said. “Everybody became so familiar with it.”

Since 1998, Ford has only tweaked the car’s engine and its wheel sizes, according to Jordan. That meant it was easy to refit and reuse equipment, and the department’s mechanics could know the car from bumper to bumper. It also meant that officers knew exactly what to expect as they took the subtly styled car around curling off-ramps.

A workhorse

What they could expect was a workhorse with pretty bad mileage – think 7 to 9 per gallon, given all the idling – and acceptable speed.

“It certainly has never been the fastest vehicle on the road,” Jordan said. “It’s always handled well. It’s a stable vehicle – corners well, handles well.”

The end of production three years ago was a serious challenge for the countless departments that have relied on the car.

“When they stopped making the Crown Vic, we had to look at our options,” said Maj. Tracy Jernigan, who supervises field operations for the Cary Police Department. “We had always used them. Occasionally we would look at what was out there, but we kept coming back to the Crown Vic.”

Cary has adopted the Dodge Charger in the years since, but the department is still deciding which vehicle is best. Interior size in particular has been a sticking point, Jernigan said, given the cameras, computers and printers that can jam a modern car.

Raleigh, similarly, has been looking for its new staple since 2011. The city department bought about 70 of the last Crown Victorias to tide itself over, but the time has come for a change. In fact, some of the new Interceptor SUVs could be seen navigating the snowed-out streets of Raleigh during the winter weather shutdown.

The Crown Vic patrol cars won’t be leaving the Raleigh streets immediately, given their expected service life of five to seven years, but it’s only a matter of time before the three new models are patrolling the streets.

An afterlife

Even after that, Raleigh’s long-lived patrol cars may reach a commuting afterlife via public auction.

“They last forever. You can buy one and drive it 200-300,000 miles – especially getting one with the (police model) package,” said Wayne Smith, manager of finance for Capital Motors, a used car dealership.

There’s also the community of Crown Vic enthusiasts. A Facebook page for the Crown Vic Boys of Raleigh shows off polished cars with super-special hubcaps and counts about 115 people among its following.

In other words, that familiar silhouette will be haunting rear-view mirrors for years to come.

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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