The wheels of change are rolling into the garages of police departments across East Tennessee and the entire country.
One of the most popular vehicles for law enforcement is no longer an option. The 2012 model year marked the final release of the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria police car.
Thursday the Knoxville Police Department has started a six-month test drive of five different vehicles in search of a long-term replacement for the Crown Vic.
"We've been forced to find another vehicle," said KPD Chief David Rausch. "We bought five different vehicles and will put them out on the streets and in service to thoroughly test them in real world conditions. After six months we will decide what will be our cruiser of the future."
KPD bought two Chevrolet Caprices, two Ford Police Pursuit vehicles, and one Dodge Charger. All of the vehicles will remain unmarked during the six month evaluation.
All of the vehicles are comparable in price at around $24,000 to $28,000 a piece. The Chevrolet and Dodge models sport beefier V8 engines while the Ford models are equipped with a V6. The Ford EcoBoost engine has more horsepower than the Caprice but less than the Dodge Hemi. One of the Ford models also features all-wheel drive.
KPD driving instructor Michele Goldsberry and other officers took the new vehicles for a spin at the department's test track in northeast Knoxville.
"Hold on, we're going to go left hard," said Goldsberry as she weaved through tight turns bordered by orange cones. "We're going about 70 miles an hour and are going to do a hard brake."
As the Ford came to a quick and smooth stop, Goldsberry said she expects all of the new models to outperform the old Crown Vic models.
"There are a lot of reasons people should care about the fact that we bought a few different types of cars to test. Things like taxpayer money and officer safety. What's great about these vehicles is they are safer for us to drive." Goldsberry added, "It's going to cut down on accidents. We're going to be able to react
quicker. We're going to be able to stop quicker. People should know
we're being smart about what car we're going to get."
Rausch said the vehicles will be evaluated by mechanics for wear and tear. He also said officers will grade the new vehicles. Comfort will be one measure of quality because officers are historically fond of the Crown Victoria as a heavier vehicle with more interior space than the newer replacement options.
"This is an officer's office. This is where they spend their time on patrol. They spend their entire shift in this vehicle so they [the vehicles] have to perform," said Rausch.
Right now none of the officers would say if any vehicle has an inherent advantage. Ford may be in the pole position because that's what mechanics with the city's fleet services department are already certified to repair. The Chevrolet Caprice won out as the Tennessee Highway Patrol's choice for a new cruiser.
Whatever model is chosen, it will be a few years before the Crown Vic disappears from KPD's fleet. Rausch said the department requested additional money last year to stock up on extra Crown Vics before the long-time favorite was taken off the shelf.
"We knew this day was coming and wanted to make sure we were covered. This has also given us more time to do these kinds of tests to make sure the next vehicle is the right one," said Rausch.
Rausch estimated it will take about three to five years before the Crown Victorias currently in service accumulate enough wear and tear to disappear from the Knoxville Police Department's fleet.