The Orange County Sheriff’s Office gave deputies’ uniforms a makeover earlier this year and will be putting 14 new Dodge Chargers on the road this month.
The county paid for the Chargers and a Harley Davidson police motorcycle with $406,781 in last year’s replacement vehicle funds, Deputy County Manager Travis Myren said. The Sheriff’s Office bought a second motorcycle with $16,749 in drug forfeiture funds.
The changes are aimed at a more professional, effective and cost-efficient agency, Sheriff Charles Blackwood said. He gave staff an equal voice in deciding how to remake their tan, polyester uniforms, he said.
The current county budget includes $100,000 to replace the uniforms and outdated bulletproof vests. Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes said the money also covers new boots, holsters and magazines, handcuffs and other equipment.
“It’s important to remember that each sheriff that takes office wants to have an identity and wants to say that this is their agency,” Blackwood said. “I didn’t make it mine. I went to the troops and I told them, I want you to tell me what you want to do.”
Deputies started wearing the new uniforms this spring – a silver and black wool-polyester blend that better wicks away moisture. The matching hats are similar to the N.C. Highway Patrol’s campaign-style hat.
Detention and special-duty deputies are wearing more comfortable, flexible, gray and black polo shirts. The new patches include the date of Orange County’s founding – 1752 – and its coat of arms.
“When an officer wears or anyone wears clothes that they feel good in, it affects their personality and it affects the way they interact with others,” Blackwood said.
The new uniforms cost about the same as the old ones, after factoring in the cost for shipping, tailoring and insignia, Sykes said. But they can be ordered and fitted in one day, while the old uniforms had to be special ordered in bulk because few agencies still use them.
The last order took 120 days, he and Blackwood said, leaving them with a roomful of uniforms, including 17 size 58 belts that no one could use. The storage room now is an office with eight drug investigation stations.
They hope to resize the belts and find another use for up to $20,000 in leftover pants, Blackwood said. Animal Control officers will use roughly 1,131 leftover shirts, saving the county nearly $59,000 in future costs.
New cars coming
The Sheriff’s Office will roll out its new Dodge Chargers this month, he said. The county could budget for another 24 cars over the next two years.
The Chargers, equipped with Hemi V-8 engines, have flashing lights in the car’s body and windshield instead of a rooftop light bar. But the biggest change is the color – white instead of brown – and shiny new graphics.
“With the markers and graphics that we have on these cars, they’re highly reflective at night for increased visibility,” Blackwood said. “We have also noted that white is more visible as a deterrent in the neighborhoods during the daytime. The car catches your eye more readily, which is by its presence a deterrent to crime.”
The Chargers also will improve fuel efficiency, Blackwood said, getting roughly 20 miles per gallon compared to the Ford Crown Victoria’s 12 to 13 miles per gallon. They’ll also save money on major repairs that keep existing cars on the road, he said.
Backup cameras, LED spotlights and other updates enhance officer safety, including a pivoting center console with a wireless computer. The change lets deputies sit back in the seat while typing, leaving them with a clear view of anyone or anything approaching the car.
The interiors also offer smaller male and female deputies a more ergonomic fit, while the all-wheel-drive provides a steadier ride in ice, rain and snow.
“The Crown Vic’s kind of been the icon of patrol cars because it has so many road capabilities, but this seems to have pretty much the same thing,” Cpl. Jonathan Daniel said.
“It is definitely roomy all throughout the car; it is extremely comfortable,” he said. “You could easily do a 12-hour shift in there, and it wouldn’t be a problem for you. And just the fact that it’s so stable when you’re driving, you don’t have to be concerned about its handling capabilities.”