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Local police in hot pursuit of new rides
The Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department put ten new vehicles through the paces last week.

Ah, there’s nothing like the smell of burnt rubber in the morning.

Along with the squealing sound of hard–working brakes, the aroma of taxed tires was in the air over the racetrack on Hutchinson Island last week as the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department put 10 new vehicles through the paces.

The SCMPD is considering these Chevy Caprice Police Patrol Vehicles (PPVs) to replace its fleet of beloved Ford Crown Victorias, which have served as the universal American cop car for more than 30 years. Ford quit production on the Crown Vics at the end of 2011 and has just begun assembly on the new Robocop–like Interceptors, which SCMPD will also survey when they roll off the line later this year.

Only officers with ten years or more on the force and exemplary safety records were chosen to test drive the new Caprices. Such scrutiny was appreciated by the citizens and members of the media who were invited along for a ride, as long as they signed a release form acknowledging the risks of riding shotgun at high speeds.

The officers’ excitement was palpable as they darted between orange cones and revved the 301 horsepower engines.

Though Officer Gene Foster confided that he’s normally reserved while in uniform, he wore a wide grin as he spun the steering wheel of his new Caprice to complete a lightning–fast three–point turn.

Admirably adept at answering questions while maneuvering the complex course he designed with Training Director Gary Taylor, Office Foster complemented the car on its superior visibility and responsive handling.

“Police officers drive differently than the average person,” he explained, carefully snaking between the cones. “We don’t rely on our mirrors; we always look back to check. I like having this broader back window to see through.”

Along with its longer wheel base and spacious interior, the Caprice PPV boasts easy–exit seatbelts and other features specifically designed for the convenience and comfort of police officers, who often spend hours at a time working at computer consoles in their vehicles.

“This isn’t grandma’s grocery getter,” added Officer Foster.

Over the racket of accelerating speeds and sudden stops, SCMPD Vehicle Coordinator Jackson Webster explained that officers would be evaluating the Caprices for performance, durability, and mileage. At 18 MPG in the city, the eight–cylinder Caprice (it also comes in a six–cylinder version) already boasts better fuel economy than the boat–like Crown Vic with its gas guzzling 14 MPG in–town stats. Less gas used means less expense, a factor taken into account.

The city will keep these ten Caprice PPVs whether or not they decide to order more as the older Crown Victorias are put out to pasture. Don’t feel too bad for the old Crown Vics, though: Decommissioned police sedans often enjoy a second life as taxicabs and retain a certain cachet among those who share the exultation of a roaring V8 engine and a great big backseat.

“The Crown Vic provided us excellent service for many years,” said Webster with a doleful shake of his head. “But these are better cars, in my opinion.”

Chief Willie Lovett was less effusive. “I’m not sure these are the ones. We haven’t seen the Fords yet,” he said.

Those superslick Ford Police Interceptors could blow the Caprices off the pavement once they arrive later this year.

With a 365 horsepower V6 EcoBoost engine that boasts faster lap times and better 25 percent fuel economy than its predecessors, the Interceptor outperformed all of its V8 competitors in tests at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department last November.

In addition to 10 test vehicles, Webster said SCMPD will also purchase a Ford Taurus PPV and an officer–equipped SUV from Ford’s Interceptor line for consideration. He’s already rejected the idea of adding to the four Dodge Charger PPVs the department bought a few years ago after learning the Crown Vics would no longer be in production, saying they cost too much to maintain.

Officers will offer their reports on both models to Chief Lovett, who will have final say on whether the department will give its alliance to Chevy or Ford. But the chief had no plans to drive the courses himself and stayed safely on the grass as others cauterized the pavement.

“I’ve done my time in the fast cars,” he avowed. “But I’ll be watching closely.”

While the mood was jovial at the racetrack, Savannah’s police test drivers expressed solemnity about the new cars as they prepare to test them where it really counts: On the streets.

“We’ve got to see what these can do out there,” said Office Foster as he managed another impossibly tight turn. “The whole point is to help us do our jobs better. We’ve got to keep us safe and you safe.”