Austin Police get new wheels

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Department gradually updating squad cars

The Austin Police Department is saying goodbye to a classic.

The department is phasing out its Crown Victoria squad cars and introducing the Ford Police Interceptor, starting with two this week and a third later this month.

The department is switching to a Ford Taurus style body for the cars, and an Explorer currently used by Austin K-9 officer Eric Blust and his K-9 partner, Bosco. The change comes after Ford stopped making the popular police-used Crown Victorias. Police Chief Brian Krueger said the department will have the entire fleet of nine police cars switched over in the next two years.

Police officer and fleet manager Chad Norman said the typical replacement of cars is made every two years, or when a car reaches 100,000 miles. When the time comes, the cars are bought three at a time.

Austin Police had their choice of three different types including the Taurus, Dodge Charger and Chevy Caprice, but a certain amount of patriotism pushed the department toward the Taurus, Norman explained.

“The Caprice is made in Australia and the Charger is made in Canada,” Norman said. “We wanted American-made.”

The big reasons for the move are far more practical. Chief among them is the savings on fuel the department hopes to make in shifting from a V8 to a V6 engine.

“We should see a reduced cost in our fuel budget by 25 to 30 percent going to the V6 [engine] versus the V8 in the Crown Victoria,” Krueger said.

The Interceptors ran about $24,700 each, and came with a 100,000-mile warranty. The most recent Crown Victorias, bought a little more than a year and a half ago, were about $22,700 and did not include a warranty. Krueger said the fact that the vehicles were purchased at different times could account for some of the price difference, and fewer repair costs on the Interceptors thanks to the warranty should show some savings in the future.

“Hopefully that will pick up a lot of the cost of repairs on the vehicle,” Krueger said.

The cost of new squad cars is covered by the city’s budget.

Despite dropping from a V8, the vehicles won’t lose anything in performance, Norman said.

“The horsepower is approximately the same and the performance is approximately the same,” Norman said. “The all-wheel drive is the nicest part of it.”

The increase in handling will make a noticeable difference during the winter months when roads can be snow-packed or icy.

For Blust, there is an added benefit in how Bosco is transported, too.

“It’s safer in the long-run,” Blust said. “There are ventilation air-ducts in the rear that gets more air back there for him.

“That’s a life-saver in itself. Every year you hear about a dog dying in the vehicle because it wasn’t ventilated.”

The other noticeable difference is the plastic backseat where prisoners are transported. It may seem minor, Norman said, but it’s a bigger change than one might expect. There are times where a drunk suspect may vomit or create a mess, leaving the officers to clean up.

“It’s an officer safety thing,” Norman said. “We can take a hose and spray it out now. It’s basically a biohazard for us.”

It also make it harder for prisoners to hide contraband, Norman said.

The cars themselves are a budgeted yearly item, but the department is able to pay for the updates in equipment using DWI forfeiture money.

Any time someone is arrested for a second or first degree DWI, their vehicle can be seized. The Austin Police Department then sells the vehicles at a twice-yearly auction. Money from those auctions is used to pay for any new equipment for the cars.

“The equipment doesn’t come out of the city budget,” Norman said.

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