Closer Look: Cruisers equipped to help officers, deputies

Published 9:42 am Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Thirty years ago, police cruisers needed only a few things: a radio, a light bar on the roof, a partition between the front and rear seats, and a siren.

“We didn’t even have FM radios,” said Clark County Sheriff Berl Perdue Jr., who started with the Winchester Police Department in the early 1980s. “We did have air conditioning. That was about the only luxury.”

Today, it typically costs about $30,000 to $35,000 to put a new police cruiser on the road for local officers. The bulk of that is the vehicle itself. Once items such as weapon mounts, mobile data terminals, radios, decals and lights are added to the picture, costs start adding up quickly.

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Presently, the Dodge Charger Pursuit is the vehicle of choice for both the Winchester Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. It is the only car-based police vehicle available in the U.S. today. Chevrolet discontinued its Caprice in 2017 and Ford canceled its Taurus-based Police Interceptor in 2018.

Both the city and county use Chargers with the Hemi V8 and all-wheel-drive, which start around $27,000 on state-negotiated price contracts.

Keeping the fleet

Both agencies plan to purchase new vehicles every year and rotate them through the fleet. This year, the City of Winchester budgeted to purchase two vehicles. Winchester Police Capt. Harvey Craycraft, who oversees the department’s fleet, said he usually tries to purchase four vehicles each year, but the city requested only two this year.

The city has used Dodges for several years, working them into the fleet after Ford discontinued the ubiquitous Crown Victoria in 2011.

Perdue hadn’t planned on changing vehicles for his deputies this year, but finances dictated the change. When the price on the Ford Explorer-based Police Interceptor Utility went up about $6,000 to $32,000 for 2019, Perdue said he had to look elsewhere.

“I love the Explorer,” he said. “They have more room for the deputies and more storage, but the price went up so much for them. They’ve been great for us in bad weather.”

Cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks

The Dodge Charger Pursuit comes with a standard set of equipment, including a vinyl rear seat and special locks for the back doors. Many components are heavier duty than regular passenger cars, including cooling systems and suspension, to withstand the rigors of police work.

There is usually a spotlight mounted next to the driver’s door and the windshield.

From there, it’s up to the departments to equip them to fit their desires and needs.

“The patrol officers, they live out of their cars,” Winchester Police Sgt. Eric Campbell said. “Eighty to 90 percent of their job is sitting in their car.”

The Chargers have proved to be a good fit for the city, though it did purchase a Dodge Durango for its tallest officer, Sgt. Caleb Goodrich.

Building a cruiser

Once the car is delivered, it takes another few thousand dollars to make it ready for patrol use.

Craycraft said the city typically spends about $4,500 to outfit a cruiser for duty.

Decals and emergency lights are $500 and $1,860, respectively. Sirens and speakers are another $750. The partition between the front and rear seats is $687, Craycraft said. The console and computer mount are a little less than $400. The radio runs about $700 on a state price contract, he said. Mounts for the officer’s shotgun and rifle are $319.

Craycraft said the officer brings his assigned laptop computer, rifle and shotgun with him to a new cruiser. Replacing the computer costs $1,500. The shotgun and rifle are $300 and $1,000, respectively, he said.

Those with SUVs need a second partition between the back seat and the cargo area, he said.

Perdue said it usually costs about $6,000 to equip a cruiser for the deputies. The most visible difference is the addition of a push bar on the front bumper, at a cost of about $750.

“It has actually saved cars,” Perdue said of the push bars. “I’ve had a couple (cruisers) that skidded off the road in poor weather conditions.”

One cruiser, he said, would have been totaled if not for the push bar. Instead, there was about $3,000 in damage to the vehicle.

“We’re not pushing cars,” he said.

That doesn’t count the other equipment officers and deputies carry, from a printer for their computer to spike strips, rain gear, a change of clothes, tactical gear, cleaning supplies, extra ammunition and evidence bags.

Recycling and reusing

In theory, some of the equipment could be taken from an older vehicle and installed in a new one. In reality, Craycraft and Perdue said it only happens when they sell a vehicle and strip it for equipment or parts.

“When we rotate cars out, I’ll keep it as a pool car so I don’t want to take too much (equipment),” Craycraft said.

Perdue said he typically keeps a cruiser for four to five years before replacing it. By that time, technology has improved enough there is better equipment available. Typically, his office purchases new equipment with new vehicles.

Besides, some items which fit one vehicle won’t fit in another.

Both agencies still have a couple Crown Victorias in the vehicle pool, but only as substitutes or to be parked around town. Keeping new vehicles in the fleet costs more up front than buying used vehicles, but new cars require far less maintenance and time in the shop.

When Perdue took office in 2007, he said he inherited a fleet of older, well-used cruisers with plenty of maintenance issues.

That first year, Perdue said his office spent about $45,000 in vehicle maintenance. With a newer fleet of vehicles, the office’s annual maintenance costs are down to about $7,000, he said.

Both agencies allow the officers and deputies to take their cruisers home. Perdue said it prolongs the vehicles’ useful lives by several years and cuts down on maintenance.

When he started at WPD, Perdue said officers handed their cruisers off at the end of their shift to other officers.

“They’d run 24 hours a day,” Perdue said. “They were worn out by the end of the year.”

With home fleets, cruisers are assigned to a specific deputy or officer. The fleet is larger, but wear and tear is much less, he said.

Taking the vehicles home adds an extra police presence throughout the community.

There are responsibilities to driving their cruisers when off duty, Craycraft said. They are required to have the police radio on and the officers have to be armed, he said. If needed, they will be called on to respond to emergencies, or of they happen upon an accident or other incidents, he said.

“It’s a benefit to the officer and a benefit to the department,” Craycraft said.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email or call 859-759-0051.

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