Brawny? Bulky? Police must pick new patrol car

A head-turning muscle car or a bulky SUV that gets better-than-expected gas mileage?

Those are the choices for the Wichita Police Department as it considers its replacement for the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

The Crown Victoria has had a dominating presence in the department's patrol fleet for most of the past decade.

But by the end of next year, Ford will no longer produce it.

"We're seeing the writing on the wall that what we are driving now is going to be taken away from us," said Wichita police Capt. Joe Dessenberger. "We've got to come up with options."

Hence the Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Tahoe.

Earlier this year, Wichita police began putting the Charger on patrol.

With the department's new black-and-white paint scheme and the low-profile light bar, officers who drive the Chargers said the cars have prompted more than a few motorists to take a second look. Some motorists even give the officers a thumbs-up, officers said.

Dessenberger said the department has four Chargers on patrol.

In the past two weeks, the department has pressed three new Tahoes into service. A fourth is expected to go into service soon, he said.

"The police fleet market has really changed since I came on," he said. "A lot of the cars manufacturers build... just do not fit the needs of police service."

Hence the Charger and the Tahoe, both of which are offered by their respective manufacturers in a "police package" version.

Ford plans to offer a new police interceptor sedan for the 2012 model year to replace the Crown Victoria. That car will be offered only to police departments, said Ford spokeswoman Marisa Bradley.

But Dessenberger said the department can't wait for a vehicle it hasn't seen or evaluated.

He said Wichita police cars are driven by different officers around the clock and in a year and a half will reach 100,000 miles.

"We replace, on average, 70 cars a year," he said. "We really don't have the option of waiting for a couple of years."

The Charger, he said, gets good marks from officers in terms of its feel and performance. But once it is loaded with radios, a laptop computer, a shotgun rack and cage, "it becomes pretty small" in the front seats, he said.

The Tahoe, on the other hand, gives officers a bigger space to work in, he said.

And because of the Tahoe's technology that allows the V-8 engine to run on fewer cylinders when it's not accelerating, Dessenberger said it has nearly the same fuel economy as the Crown Victoria.

"Really, the Tahoe, even though it's a truck, you'd have a hard time on a piece of paper picking out which one's a car and which one's a truck."

And even after those evaluations, the department could still end up with something different than what it's now testing, he said.

Chevrolet, for instance, plans to offer a new police-only Caprice next year.

"That may be another option for us," Dessenberger said.