At a recent city auction, the black-and-white 2008 Ford Crown Victoria was unmistakable.
Stripped of its decals, radio, lights and siren, its glory days as a Minneapolis police cruiser were in the rearview mirror. But with fewer than 70,000 miles, it’s still a bargain hunter’s dream.
Such is the fate of many of the once ubiquitous Crown Vics, for decades the brawny symbol of police agencies across the country. Minneapolis is one of several departments in the state that slowly are phasing out the vehicles.
“It’s been a workhorse for us for 30 years,” said deputy chief Travis Glampe.
By the end of next year, the force’s remaining 37 Crown Vics, which are bound for the auction block when they accumulate 70,000 to 80,000 miles, will be replaced by the larger — and environmentally friendlier — Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle.
Officials are counting on the Explorers’ reinforced frames to better withstand the rigors of police work, including long trips and high speeds.
Crown Vics are popping up on classified websites like Craigslist and AutoTrader. Some are enjoying second acts for taxicabs and private car services.
Cmdr. Gerald Moore said that Minneapolis tested other makes and models popular with departments nationwide but had problems with certain performance categories such as the Chevrolet Caprice (interior was too cramped) and Dodge Durango (not “pursuit-rated”).
The Explorers, from years 2013 to 2016, offer several advantages over previous police cars, officials say.
The vehicles are slightly more fuel efficient than the predecessors and have raised cabs that are easier on officers as they clamber in and out of their squads. Officers also appreciate their roominess.
Today, Moore said, the “squad car is your office, where you spend anywhere from eight to 10 to 12 hours a day,” with an onboard computer that lets officers look up the number of traffic tickets motorists have received or file an incident report — tasks that used to require a trip back to the police station.
The SUVs cost the department about $28,000 apiece for the Police Interceptor edition, which comes with special brakes and tires, plus a better suspension and electrical systems. The department spends about another $12,000 per squad for police-specific extras like computer equipment, sirens, lighting and decals.
Trading out a classic
While some have questioned the Explorer’s price tag, departments insist it will pay off in the long run.
“The better service and higher trade-in value offset the increase of cost,” said Marshall, Minn., Police Chief Robert Yant, whose department will retire the last of its Chevrolet Impalas in the next budget cycle and drive only Explorers.
In her proposed 2017 budget, Mayor Betsy Hodges suggested increasing the department’s vehicle maintenance account to nearly $1.7 million. The money will be used to maintain a fleet of 185 marked vehicles: 132 of the souped-up police Explorers, 15 Caprices and 37 Crown Vics. The cars are spread among five police precincts and are assigned to patrol officers in the traffic division and certain street supervisors.
By the end of next year, they will be replaced by SUVs, painted black with white doors, which are adorned with black decals, the department shield and “POLICE” — a color scheme that officials returned to several years ago, partly out of nostalgia.
Five years after Ford’s decision to abandon production of the full-sized Crown Victoria, Glampe says that cops still romanticize the car that to many is synonymous with law enforcement.
“All you have to do is to be driving down the road, and if you see a Crown Vic in your rearview mirror, you immediately have to go in your mind, ‘Oh, is that a police officer behind me?’ ” Glampe said.
But the fact that the Explorer lacks its predecessor’s strong brand recognition — the SUVs were especially popular with families in the 1990s — might have an unexpected benefit at a time when a lot of departments are eager for a friendlier image.
In Hermantown, Minn., officers switched to the 2012 Ford Interceptor Utility after decades of driving Crown Victorias and Caprices. They also briefly considered the four-door sedan version of the Ford Interceptor but decided it was too small.
Police Chief Jim Crace said he prefers the Explorer to previous police vehicles for the most Minnesotan of reasons.
“Up here in the Twin Ports-Duluth area, that’s been a huge advantage to have all-wheel drive, not having to worry about traction and slipping and sliding as much as you did have to with the Crown Vic,” he said.