Increasingly, the Prototypical ‘Cop Car’ Today Is an SUV

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When Ford decided in 2011 to discontinue the boat-like Crown Victoria—long the standard for police cruisers and taxi cabs alike—police departments were forced to go shopping for a new model to take on patrol. And more and more nowadays, police say that the most useful and sensible “car” for them is actually an SUV.

Around the country, police officers are trading in their trusty sedans for spacious sport utility vehicles like the Ford Interceptor SUV, which is based on the Explorer and comes with standard all-wheel-drive.

In Eugene, Ore., for example, the Register-Guard reports that the police department recently announced plans to buy 54 Interceptor SUVs worth $1.6 million over the course of the next five years. In Florida, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office just “supersized” its vehicle fleet with the purchase of 82 Chevy Tahoes, according to the Tampa Bay Times. SUVs are also becoming the police officer vehicle of choice in smaller towns such as Londonderry, N.H. (population around 24,000), where the local police department recently decided to lease 16 Ford Interceptors, per the local Eagle-Tribune.

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Larger departments are turning to SUVs as well. After checking out the Interceptor SUV at an auto show in 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city would be purchasing 100 new vehicles from Ford right away for the police department, with plans for a total of 500 Ford vehicle purchases over the course of five years. The Detroit News listed the California Highway Patrol among the other law enforcement organizations adding SUV to their fleets, and noted that the surge in SUV sales to police departments has even surprised automakers lately:

Ford expected its Explorer-based police Interceptor SUV to comprise about 30 percent of its police fleet sales. But in recent months, that number has approached 70 percent.

What’s driving the increased police preference for SUVs over sedans? Existing sedan models still used for police work such as the Chevy Caprice, Dodge Charger, and Ford Taurus Interceptor have a lot less space for gear and police personnel than today’s SUVs. “As cars have become more compact, an athletic-built police officer wearing all the equipment that is required — gun-equipment belt, bullet-resistant vest, etc. — can find the driver area quite compact,” Maj. Daniel Slaughter of the Clearwater Police Department explained to the Tampa Bay Times.

SUVs are also safer than the typical rear-wheel-drive police cruiser, especially when the weather’s bad. Ford Interceptor SUVs “are far more utilitarian in the New England climate,” Londonderry (N.H.) police Chief Bill Hart told the Eagle-Tribune. “During heavy winter events, these have four-wheel drive, which gives us the ability to use our fleet in all weather circumstances.”

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Perhaps surprisingly, police departments also make the case that an SUV is the more financially prudent way to go. Critics assume that SUVs—what with their reputations as pricey gas guzzlers—are a waste of taxpayer dollars. Police departments say differently, pointing out that the price of a Ford Interceptor utility is under $30,000, roughly on par with the sedans used by officers today. What’s more, the V-6 SUV is far more fuel efficient than the old V-8 Crown Victoria. Eugene police estimate that they’ll use 37,000 fewer gallons annually when their fleet is switched over to the Interceptor SUV.