BANGOR, Maine — Every year the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office buys five or six new cruisers. In recent years, that has meant shiny new Crown Victorias.
Ford discontinued the classic rear-wheel drive sedan with a V-8 engine this year. That left police departments considering other options for the first time in many years.
Sheriff Glenn Ross settled on Ford’s new sport utility vehicle designed for use by police. For a total cost of $160,000, his department purchased six of the all-wheel-drive SUVs, which have V-6 engines. Five already are on the road. The sixth will be on the road by the end of the week.
Ross said Monday that what he and his deputies liked about the Ford SUV Police Interceptor was its roomy interior. It has space for arrestees, officers and equipment. Sedans, including the Crown Victoria, have become more cramped in recent years as deputies have needed to have more equipment, including computers, in their cruisers.
“We aren’t like a municipal department where a municipal officer can go right back to his department to get his camera, get his fingerprint equipment,” Ross said. “Whatever he needs, it’s just a mile or two away. Ours could be 50 or 60 miles away, so we carry everything we need for an event. You never know what type of an incident you’re going to get called to, so you have to have it all.”
Ross said deputies put an average of 40,000 miles a year on each cruiser. The average life of the Crown Victoria was 124,000 to 140,000 miles.
Penobscot County purchases between six and eight new vehicles for the sheriff’s department each year, replacing between 20 percent and 30 percent of the 30-vehicle fleet annually.
The sheriff said the cost of the SUV was higher than the Crown Victoria but the mileage is projected to be in the low 20s compared to the mid-teens of the classic sedan. Ross also said he expected that the four-wheel-drive vehicles would be better suited to winter road conditions in northern Maine.
In an impromptu tour of the SUV he now is driving, Sgt. Roy Peary of the sheriff’s office pointed out that the radar unit, computer, voice recorder, cellphone and gear bag, including his “ticket book,” are all in the front seat area of the cab. Behind the passenger seat, he keeps a portable filing cabinet. A portable printer is balanced on the hump in between the seats.
“As law enforcement progresses, we add equipment to our cruisers, it seems,” Peary said.
The rear storage area includes a defibrillator, first aid kit, foul weather gear, fingerprint and DNA kits, evidence tape, a bullet-proof vest, rifle and ammunition, ear protection and other gear he uses as a member of the special response team.
“The SUV definitely is more comfortable than the sedan,” said Peary, who is 6 feet, 4 inches tall. “The gun belt seems to fit into the seat better and there is more headroom. For a big, tall guy like me, it sometimes felt like I would fall down into the Crown Vic and then have to climb back out of it.”
Steering wheel controls on the new vehicles allow deputies to issue voice commands to the radios and speak to dispatchers while keeping both hands on the wheel. Peary also said the SUV’s engine was very quiet.
“I can be on a rural road going five miles an hour or on the Interstate going 65 or 70 and still be able to hear dispatch over the engine and they can hear me.”
Penobscot County is not the only sheriff’s department in the state to purchase SUVs to replace the Crown Victoria cruisers. Cumberland County bought nine Chevrolet Tahoes to be used by deputies in Harpswell, Harrison and Standish, according to a story published in May by a southern Maine newspaper.
The Maine State Police also have purchased 14 SUVs for use by members of its tactical teams and troopers in commercial vehicle enforcement, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday.