Cedar Rapids Police Reconsidering Move to Chevy Patrol Cars

By Jeff Raasch, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The era of Chevrolet police cars in Cedar Rapids may be short-lived.

Officials selected the Chevrolet Caprice PPV as the new model of patrol car in Cedar Rapids when production on the Ford Crown Victoria ended in 2011. But the Police Department is reconsidering the decision, now that more options are available.

A committee that has been comparing the Caprice with the new Ford Police Interceptor and the Dodge Charger Pursuit hopes to make a recommendation to Police Chief Wayne Jerman within the next 10 days.

Among other complaints, officials said some of the larger officers have had a difficult time transitioning to the newer vehicles, which are smaller inside than the Crown Victorias.

"You get a 6-foot-3 officer that weighs 220 pounds, and it's cramped in there," Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said. "I even feel claustrophobic in there. It's a concern."

Ford dominated the law enforcement market after Chevrolet stopped manufacturing police cars in the mid-1990s. Crown Victorias patrolled the streets of Cedar Rapids exclusively for more than 15 years, before the new Caprices debuted last April.

Of the 62 sedans used by Cedar Rapids police, 10 are Caprices. Nine more will arrive in the next couple weeks. As the new cars are added to the fleet, the oldest "Crown Vics," as they are known, are taken out of service.

Lt. Jeff Hembera said Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge patrol cars were considered when officials attended a police vehicle expo in 2010, but both the Ford and Dodge police vehicles there were considered prototypes, and they weren't allowed to sit in or drive the Dodge. The Caprice seemed to have more interior space than the Ford model they saw, but Ford's latest version is more comparable, Hembera said.

"Quite honestly, Chevy was the only option where they said, 'This is the car you're going to get if you order it,'" Hembera said. "Other options have come out since then, and that's really what caused us to say, you know, before we replace the entire fleet, let's re-evaluate our decision and see if there is something better out there."

The Marion Police Department decided to stick with Ford and has deployed four of the new Police Interceptor sedans. Commanders there were attracted to the new Fords because they feature all-wheel drive, rather than the rear-wheel drive found in the Caprices and the Crown Victorias. Marion officers who have driven the new Fords have reported better braking and less fish-tailing.

During past snow storms, the department had to put chains on the tires of the Crown Victorias. Lt. Rich Holland said the advantages of all-wheel drive were obvious during last month's snow storm.

"The all-wheel drive was a big difference, going down some streets that weren't plowed," Holland said. "If you tried to accelerate from a stop sign in the Crown Vic, you'd just sit there and spin. With these, if you step on it, you're moving."

The Iowa State Patrol has transitioned to the Dodge Charger Pursuit, which also features all-wheel drive. Trooper Herb Wester, who is 6-foot-8 and 295 pounds, said he has enjoyed driving the Charger since 2009, after years behind the wheel of a Crown Victoria.

"The dashboard is further ahead, so I have more room between my knees and the dash," said Wester, who is based in Henry County. "The door is bigger, and the vehicle in general, sits up higher."

Some Cedar Rapids police officers have been displeased with the location of the gear shift in the Caprices, Hembera said. It is on the console, rather than on the steering column.

"That causes some issues with the officer being able to get down and shift, because you've also got the computers and the radios built right into that console," Hembera said. "That's an issue."

The space issue may not be solved with a different model of patrol car, though. All the new police sedans have less interior room than the Crown Victorias, due to fuel efficiency standards, Hembera said.

Several area law enforcement agencies brought their patrol vehicles to Hawkeye Downs Speedway in November for a test-drive event. Officials compared the vehicles side-by-side and the way equipment was installed.

"We're all switching vehicles or going to something completely different from the Crown Vics," Hembera said. "Everybody's trying to see, did we do the right thing, or do we need to adjust?"
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