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CHP shifting to SUVs for patrol cruisers

May 25, 2012 |  3:33 pm


When Ford announced that it would stop making the Crown Victoria sedan, the California Highway Patrol and law enforcement agencies around the country were faced with replacing the iconic cop car.

Some agencies decided to go smaller with police versions of cars like the Chevy Caprice and Dodge Charger sedans.

But the CHP is heading in a different direction.

Officials said Friday that they plan to start phasing in a “Police Interceptor” version of the hulky Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle this fall.

The SUVs might be hard to miss on the freeway, but officials said they went with the Explorer because traditional sedans available were too small.

CHP Assistant Chief Erik Knudsen said the SUV best fit the agency’s needs because it had enough payload capacity to carry several adults and all the radio gear and other equipment required.

“The utility is probably going to be our primary vehicle,” Knudsen said of the Explorer. “The Crown Vic had a much higher payload capacity than all these new sedans coming out. Unfortunately the design of the new sedans is becoming smaller and lighter.”

The Explorer Police Interceptor offers all-wheel drive and has a payload of 1,700 pounds, Knudsen said, adding that it also performs well at high speeds and in wet weather. It gets about 16 miles per gallon on city streets and 21 on freeways, a little better than the Crown Victoria, according to Ford’s website. (According to Car & Driver magazine, Chevy’s new Caprice police package sedan gets an estimated 15–17 mpg in the city and 24–25 on the highway).

Knudsen said there are currently about 4,000 enforcement vehicles in the state’s fleet. Roughly one-third of them are phased out each year at a cost of about $14 million to $15 million.

The CHP is reviewing both the SUV and a sedan. But Knudsen said the CHP is likely to purchase mainly SUVs because the sedan doesn’t have enough capacity and cannot carry as much weight.

The Explorer police edition must pass speed, brake and other tests before the CHP purchases them, and Knudsen said it was unclear how much money would be available for the new vehicles. The plan is to start introducing them in October.

There will still be a slew of Crown Victorias on the road until those too are phased out in the coming years.

Knudsen said one of the advantages of the SUV is that it can perform on different terrains and could be a plus during bad weather.

“We’re excited about testing it,” he said. “It’s a new generation of patrol car for law enforcement.”


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-- Ari Bloomekatz

Photo: CHP sport utility vehicle cruiser. Credit: California Highway Patrol