The Statesboro Police Department's patrol cars will, over time, be replaced by patrol SUVs, if the department and officials who control its purse strings like the seven 2017 Ford Police Interceptor Utility units now on order.
These will be equipped after-market with a latest-model digital video camera system, wirelessly interactive with the recently arrived body-worn cameras.
The SUVs are a special version of the Ford Explorer. Most of the police force's 56 marked patrol vehicles are Dodge Chargers, purchased beginning with the 2008 model year. The fleet also includes several remaining Ford Crown Victoria sedans, purchased from 2001 through 2008.
Especially since Ford ceased production of the venerable "Crown Vic" with the 2011 models, the Dodge Charger has been popular with law enforcement agencies. But making the department's case for ordering Explorers earlier this month, Deputy Chief Robert W. Bryan received backup from the city's fleet maintenance team in arguing that the Chargers make too many costly pit stops.
"Due to the high operational cost and the maintenance costs, the Statesboro Police Department and the city shop are recommending transition from Dodge Chargers to Ford Interceptor Utility vehicles, the Ford Explorer," Bryan told City Council.
The department already operates some sport utility vehicles, including several Chevrolet Tahoes and five Ford Explorers. Those Explorers, purchased beginning with model year 2012, are assigned to detectives, so their use is not quite the same as patrol duty, he said.
But operating costs for the Explorers were 12 to 15 cents per mile, compared to about 29 cents for the Chargers, including maintenance and repairs but not fuel, Bryan reported.
Also included in the proposal was a seven-year, 100,000-mile extended warranty, which he said "will also save us tremendously from our general fund budget." The city will have to pay a $100 deductible on each repair beyond the regular 3-year, 36,000-mile warranty.
"Some of the frequent bills we have seen, especially from the Chargers when they actually have to go back to Dodge for any type of major work, are $2,000 or $3,000," Bryan said.
One patrol car recently had its engine replaced at an even higher cost, but it would have cost $100 with the extended warranty, he said.
The research he presented also included comparisons of vehicle maintenance costs from other departments that operate both types of patrol vehicles, including the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office, Chamblee Police Department and Liberty County Sheriff's Office. All reported lower maintenance costs for the Ford Interceptor, and some agencies, including the Bulloch sheriff's department, reported no maintenance needs on these so far beyond tires and oil changes.
But the Dodges do get slightly better gas mileage, according to data Bryan also presented from testing this year by the Michigan State Police. The Dodges and Fords both averaged 15 miles per gallon in city driving, but the Dodge Chargers got 23 mpg to the Ford Interceptors' 20 mpg in highway driving. That resulted in a combined fuel economy of 18 mpg for the Dodge and 17 for the Ford.
City Council on Dec. 6 unanimously approved the purchase of the seven Police Interceptors from Allan Vigil Ford in Morrow on a statewide-contract cost of $26,680 each plus $1,835 each for the extended warranty. In state contract purchases, the city gets the same price as the state and other local governments. Only a few vendors participate.
Latest camera system
Also approved was the purchase of seven Watch Guard 4RE in-car camera systems direct from Watch Guard for a total of $36,970.
Unlike in the older system installed in most of the department's cars, video from these cameras does not have to be transferred with portable memory devices. It will upload wirelessly through access points in the parking lot when cars return to headquarters.
The in-car system will mesh with the department's body-worn cameras, Bryan said. They were also purchased from Watch Guard.
"This 4RE will integrate with the body-worn camera and let the video from the car be wirelessly transferred to the servers so you get rid of having to deal with flash drives, with DVDs," he said.
Authorized in the city budget more than a year ago, the body-worn cameras arrived this fall and were fully deployed by early November. This is the first time the SPD has made general use of body-worn cameras by officers responding to calls. With the system in the new SUVs, video from the in-car and body-worn cameras will also be automatically synchronized and can be reviewed simultaneously.
Additionally, City Council approved buying equipment such as light bars, prisoner transport cage partitions and sirens from West Chatham Warning Devices for a total of $59,350 for the seven vehicles, or $8,479 for each. West Chatham was the low bidder, with two local businesses also bidding.
Instead of having the company install the equipment, the plan is for the city's shop to install it an estimated installation cost of $8,841. This is a new approach also intended to save some money, Bryan said.
The total cost for the seven SUVs and their equipment is $304,766, with $300,000 coming from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds and the rest from funds seized by the police, mostly from defendants in drug cases.
Most years, the city purchases some replacement police vehicles with SPLOST money. But maintenance expenses are paid from the department's general fund budget.
"I really hope to see a positive impact so that we can return those dollars to some other areas," Bryan told the council.
The patrol vehicles are not the full SPD fleet, which numbers about 78 machines, ranging from vans to a motorcycle. Bryan, who provided the counts of vehicles, is the interim chief of police, and has been serving in that capacity for a year now.
He and City Council members briefly discussed a desire to make all the patrol cars look similar again.
"We would like to not see a mixed fleet," Bryan said.
As older blue-and-white patrol cars retire, they are being replaced with vehicles in a color scheme already familiar to observant citizens. The SUVs, which he said may be delivered in February, were ordered black with silver doors.
But the department will see how the new Fords do before committing to buy more, Bryan said this week.
"The next time we go to purchase vehicles, we'll review this, look at how it's going and constantly evaluate so that we're making sure that we're being responsible with the taxpayers' money," he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.