Officers Pick Crown Vic

DETROIT FREE PRESS
December 8, 2003
By Jennifer Dixon
Free Press Staff Writer

For law enforcement officers, the Ford Crown Victoria is the police car of choice. Eighty-five percent of cop cars on the road are the Crown Vic Police Interceptor, the heavy-duty, police version of the sedan.

Officers praise it as being rugged and responsive. With a V8 engine and rear-wheel drive, the Crown Vic handles well during pursuits, as they navigate harrowing turns or bounce between curb and street, police say. It's also roomy and comfortable for officers who spend eight hours a day or more behind the wheel, sharing the front seat with shotguns, radios, radar and computers.

"Ford, in my opinion, is the way to go," said Sheriff Jimmy Mullins in Lincoln County, Tenn., who drives a 2003 Crown Vic and has about two dozen police vehicles running the county's crooked, hilly roads. "And every one is a Ford," he said.

In Detroit, the Police Department is sticking with the Crown Vic for its patrol officers. Inspector Todd Bettison, who oversees the department's fleet, recently ordered 50 new Crown Vics for Detroit officers and said he would like to buy more. "I don't want to be hit at all," he said. "But if given a choice, I'd rather be in a Crown Vic."

Said Calvin Hullett, president of the police union in Nashville, Tenn.: "It just hugs the road and, you hang in there. . . . I never found a car that ran better than that."

Although police cars account for a fraction of any automakers' sales, they are considered testimonials to the toughness of similar models sold to the public. And General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG are going after a slice of that market. GM virtually abandoned the police market in 1996 when it stopped building its Chevrolet Caprice but returned in 1999 with a 2000 police version of the Impala, a front-wheel-drive car.

Dodge launched a police version of its Intrepid, which also has front-wheel drive, in January 2002 but stopped building the vehicle this past September. DaimlerChrysler is planning to build a new vehicle in 2004 with rear-wheel drive and independent rear suspension. one version, the Magnum, will be marketed to police.

Concerns about the Crown Victoriacatching fire in rear-impact crasheshave prompted some law enforcement agencies to switch to the Impala or Intrepid, while others go with the lowest bid. The police department in Tempe, Ariz., is replacing its fleet of Crown Victorias with Impalas.

In some cases, departments have run into hitches when buying different models. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County in Tennessee said it discovered a problem with brakes catching fire on the 2004 Intrepid. The government ordered 50 of the cars. It tested two March 11. Two others were tested April 3. According to Nashville's lawyer, the front brakes on all four caught fire.

The brakes of a fifth car burst into flames as a Parks Department employee was driving the Intrepid in normal afternoon traffic, the lawyer said in a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. DaimlerChrysler has questioned the city's tests and said the cars are safe. The metropolitan government has insisted it will not drive them.

For Arizona state Trooper Pat Eagan, the Crown Vic remains the best option. "They'll probably bury me in one of these cars," he said. "It's comfortable and quick. No one has been able to show me a safer car." Still, he acknowledges he's more wary since three Arizona officers died in their Crown Vic cruisers and a fourth was badly burned in recent years.

Eagan is always alert to the sound of screeching tires behind him and, with every stop on the side of the highway, now has a decision to make. Does he stay in his car as he writes up a motorist and risk being rear-ended? Or does he stand outside his vehicle, on a sliver of shoulder and risk being struck by a car? "It's changed how we do our job and how we think of things," he said.

Contact JENNIFER DIXON at 313-223-4410.