Raleigh police go with Big Three carmakers for new fleet of cruisers

rgallagher@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2014 

  • What’s under the hood

    Raleigh Police Department’s new patrol vehicles:

    • Ford Interceptor SUV comes with a 300-horsepower V-6 engine and all-wheel drive.

    • Dodge Charger comes with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine and will have all-wheel drive in the next model year.

    • Chevrolet Caprice Pursuit comes with the LS V-8 engine used in the Chevrolet Corvette.

— The Raleigh Police Department looked at 15 vehicles to replace the retiring Ford Crown Victoria but just couldn’t choose a single favorite.

So on Wednesday, the department showed off three vehicles it plans to buy: the Ford Police Interceptor SUV, the Chevrolet Caprice Pursuit sedan and the Dodge Charger that has become a common sight as a police vehicle for many Triangle agencies and the state Highway Patrol.

The Crown Victoria, the long-lauded standby with its “police interceptor” equipment package, is dying out because Ford stopped making the car in 2011.

Now, motorists will begin to see a variety of body shapes, though police cars will still look like they have for decades in the city. Raleigh police cruisers will still be white and “Raleigh-PD-blue,” a specially-blended color the department must apply itself, and will have the same badge on the doors and markings on the front and rear.

The word “POLICE” across the hood will still be in the “Branding Iron” typeface that has been in use “for at least as long as I’ve been here, and that’s 29 years,” said Vaughn Lowman, garage supervisor for the department.

The three cars the department showed off outside the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts are the ones that a 10-officer test committee, commanders and mechanics chose out of the 15 candidates, but it remains a sort of “Final Three” situation.

As the vehicles are worked into the fleet, the department will collect information about them from line officers. That information will be used to determine purchases beyond 2015, Lowman said. The department has about 900 cars, SUVs and trucks, of which more than 500 are patrol vehicles.

Lt. K.S. Swinson said police will attempt to spread the new vehicles evenly across the six patrol districts, but a point system decides the order in which Crown Vics are turned out to pasture – to auction, actually, if they are still road-worthy.

High mileage and an expensive repair record are two of the factors that push up a car’s point total, Simpson and Senior Officer J.D. Rattelade said.

Rattelade was on the evaluation committee but said that does not give him preference in the replacement line.

“Soon, I hope, but I don’t know,” Rattelade said. He drives a 2007 Crown Vic now.

The new cars offer greater safety and tell officers more about what’s going on in their vehicles, Rattelade said as he sat behind the wheel of one of the Dodge Chargers.

The Charger, he said, reports data about the car’s operation, including the pressure in all four tires, and has computer-assisted braking and steering that monitors how the car is handling and can compensate.

The department bought 62 vehicles last year, mostly Ford Interceptors and Dodge Chargers, which are now being upfitted and placed into service; it has bought 67 this year, mostly Interceptors and Chevrolet Caprices. Lowman said Raleigh police buy 50 to 80 new vehicles every year, and the next purchase likely will include 50 Fords and 10 Chargers.

After that, no one knows yet.

As cars come in, the city will outfit them with everything “police,” including front- and rear-facing radar, automatically activated cameras, radios, computer terminals and prisoner-transport cages around the rear seat.

The “police packages” that manufacturers build into the vehicles include larger, heavy-duty brakes, heavy-duty electrical systems, steel wheels and other equipment. Raleigh adds the sirens, lights and markings it prefers.

Emergency lighting on the new vehicles includes side lights in the fenders or on rear-view mirrors, depending on the brand, to raise visibility, said Master Officer S.T. Simpson.

Raleigh contracts with local paint shops to apply the distinctive blue. The choice that Ford offers these days, Lowman said, is black-and-white or all white, so Raleigh bought white and applied the blue.

It is reminiscent of Henry Ford’s saying that customers could have a Model T in any color they wanted, as long as they wanted black.

Gallagher: 919-829-4572

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