What’s your ride?
“Cops showed up at a little o’six
With the FBI and their black Crown Vics”
JT Hodge’s song relates the drama of a “Sleepy Little Town,” but he didn’t find his inspiration in Eagle County.
Crown Vics may be signature cop cars elsewhere, but not here.
Mike McWilliams of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office noted Ford’s Crown Victorias — the four door sedans that were manufactured between 1979 and 2011 and featured beefy V8 engines and rear wheel drive — may be synonymous with police vehicles but they are ill-suited to the demands of high country law enforcement. In Colorado’s mountains, police officers need front-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicles with expansive driver cabins to accommodate their special equipment. What’s more, some local departments have been able to score vehicles based on their community cache.
Since 2006, the signature vehicle for the Eagle Police Department is a gray Jeep Wrangler. Chief Rodger McLaughlin made that change shortly after he took over the department.
According to McLaughlin, up until 2006, the Eagle police cars were a mixture of Chevy Impalas and Caprices, with a Dodge Intrepid thrown in the mix. But none of those cars hit the sweet spot, giving officers the flexibility they needed to patrol around town, along Interstate 70 and occasionally through the local back country. As he was researching the state bid options for police vehicles, McLaughlin noted that Jeep Wranglers were on the list and he thought it would be worth it to give the model a try.
“The Jeeps give us a rugged four-wheel drive vehicle,” said McLaughlin. He noted the Wranglers don’t have V8 engines, but that isn’t a major consideration for Eagle where the majority of patrol time is spend on town streets. McLaughlin believes if his officers need a V8 to catch up with someone, they probably would be driving too fast.
“But there are places in Eagle, with a two-wheel drive vehicle, it is difficult to get where you are going,” said McLaughlin, “and people want to know that then they call 911, the police officer will be able to get to them.”
Eagle Police officers are assigned their own vehicles. McLaughlin said that practice means there is an added police presence in local neighborhoods and it lengthens the life of a police car. Because each officer is assigned his or her own ride, he or she is more likely to keep up with maintenance issues.
“Typically we will get 80,000 to 90,000 miles before a car starts showing wear,” said McLaughlin. “I am happy to say we have some of those 2007 cars still in our fleet.”
Beyond the performance issues, McLaughlin noted that gray Wranglers have unanticipated advantages.
‘What’s funny is, there are a lot of gray Jeeps out there,” he said. So, while it is not the department’s intention to be covert, the local popularity of the Jeep Wrangler can work to its advantage.
“The Wranglers have become a small part of our department identity,” said McLaughlin.
Speaking of identity…
For the past 25 years, the Vail Police Department has boasted some sweet rides. Back in the 1980s, the department inked a deal with Saab to supply police cars for a $1 per year lease amount.
“But by the time I got here (in 2002), it was significantly more expensive than that,” said Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger.
Eventually, Henninger switched the department over to Ford Explorers, but then six years ago the town of Vail, Vail Resorts and the Vail Valley Foundation teamed up with Volvo.
“Volvo made us a deal we couldn’t refuse,” said Henninger. As a result, since around 2007, the department’s officers have been driving Volvo’s XC90 model.
But that’s about to change again. Henninger said the Volvo deal has run its course and now Vail is looking at Ford Interceptors.
“It will be the first time Vail has had a police car (a sedan, not a SUV) out on the streets for a long time,” said Henninger.
Along with the sedans, the Vail department is also pricing Ford SUVs to round out its fleet.
Henninger said officer safety is the No. 1 issue as he considers new vehicles — that means finding cars that can manage the road and weather conditions around Vail and can give officers the power they need to patrol the swath of I-70 that runs through the community. Ultimately, Henninger added the town council will weigh in with cost considerations.
Over at the Eagle County Sheriff’s office, the police car fleet is a mixture of Motown’s big three — Dodge Chargers, Chevy Tahoes and Ford Interceptors.
“We used to be totally Dodges, but over the last few years, Ford and Chevy have stepped up to the plate with specially designed police models,” said Sheriff Joe Hoy.
His ride adds another make in the mix. The sheriff’s official vehicle is a Volkswagon Tiguan. At one point, Hoy thought the German manufacturer might be a good fit for the department, with an SUV that would bring in higher trade-in values and a reduced environmental footprint. But once the Tiguan was put in service, Hoy found it wasn’t a good fit.
“What we found out was no matter how we tried to convert the inside … it basically needed a custom designed cage,” said Hoy. That need priced the Volkswagon out of consideration.
Along with the performance issues, Hoy said the interior design of a police car is a big consideration. The standard county cruiser is equipped with a video monitor, radio, emergency light and siren controls, radar speed check controls and a mobile data terminal where officers can check driver records and write reports. The front seat layout also has to provide room for a police rifle and shotgun. If the front seat doesn’t have an expansive interior, a deputy will feel crammed in, said Hoy.
Like civilian drivers, Hoy said his deputies have decided vehicle favorites.
“I like the Dodge Chargers,” said Deputy Arthur Freeman. Hoy said Freeman is not alone.
“I have some guys who love the Chargers and they tell me if I want to take them away, I will have to shoot them first,” said Hoy, with a laugh.
With that said, Hoy also noted the department’s new Ford Interceptors — the car company’s replacement for the classic Crown Victoria — is also gaining fans among his deputies. Hoy is looking at Ford Explorers as the department’s new SUV model.
“My biggest concern is for stability and safety,” he said.