The Iowa State Patrol is considering converting up to half of its 380-car fleet from sedans to SUVs. They get worse gas mileage, but provide a better ride for troopers.
“The people we’re getting the car for, this is their office,” said Capt. Shane Antle, fleet and supply commander.
When some people think of SUVs, they imagine gas-guzzling luxury vehicles prone to rollovers.
But law enforcement agencies are increasingly using SUVs because the larger vehicles are more comfortable for officers, have greater clearance on snowy or rocky terrain and have the potential for higher resale, Antle said.
The ISP just received two Ford Police Interceptor Utility vehicles to test on Iowa’s highways.
ISP would spend about $100,500 more on Ford Interceptors — similar to an Explorer — than if they updated half the fleet with 2014 Dodge Chargers. The SUVs cost $25,500 before being equipped with computer, video and other electronic gear.
This is compared to the $24,971 base cost of a 2014 Dodge Charger Pursuit V8, which ISP also plans to test.
The Interceptor’s city mileage is the same as the Charger’s — 16 miles per gallon. But on the highway, where troopers spend most of their time, the Interceptor gets 21 mpg compared to 25 mpg for the Charger.
At an average of 30,000 miles per year on a trooper vehicle, and $3.20 a gallon for gas, it would cost the state about $700 more per year to gas up an Interceptor over a Charger. With about 190 SUVs in the fleet, that’s nearly $140,000 more a year in gas overall.
“I believe they need to go with the better mileage vehicles,” said Pam Mackey-Taylor of Marion, who is energy chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter. “I would prefer a hybrid to reduce emissions and use less gas.”
The California Highway Patrol converted many of its 2,100 vehicles to the Interceptor in July. Spokeswoman Erin Komatsubara said the utility vehicle costs more than the Crown Victorias used previously, but also gets slightly better mileage.
“This new model meets CHP’s safety, performance and payload capacity, and was the lowest bid submitted to the California Department of General Services (DGS),” Komatsubara wrote in an email.
The ISP fleet is mostly Chargers, but the Executive Protection Unit uses Chevy Tahoes. These troopers gained publicity earlier this year for speeding incidents while driving Gov. Terry Branstad.
Troopers who work with police dogs also drive Tahoes, Antle added.
Patrol cars usually are replaced after about four years, with the old models going up for auction. The state uses Insurance Auto Auctions, which had 162 Dodge Chargers for bid online earlier this week.
Antle hopes that mixing up the fleet with the SUVs will bring higher prices when those cars are sold to the public.
If Antle is right, resale profits could offset the slightly higher purchase and fuel costs, he noted.
Ford Interceptors and the new Chargers have all-wheel drive — a first for the ISP. The Interceptor may have an advantage during snowstorms because of the higher profile, he said.
“If you’re the person out there in the middle of a snowstorm, this type of vehicle will enhance our ability to get to you,” he said.
Humvees may not be used
Eight Humvees the Iowa State Patrol obtained last year for use during natural disasters may not be deployed.
The ISP got the vehicles from the U.S. Defense Department as part of a program to transfer military equipment to law enforcement agencies at no cost. Former Public Safety Commissioner Brian London wanted the Humvees to be available for public safety officials to help troopers during major snow storms.
London was forced out of the agency in September amid a state trooper speeding scandal.
ISP has spent about $4,000 painting and equipping three Humvees with surplus equipment, Antle said. But because the vehicles need specialized mechanical repairs, the state patrol is weighing whether to deploy the vehicles, he said.
“It sounded real good,” Antle said about getting the Humvees. But “how much do we want to invest in this particular project? It’s something we’re currently reviewing.”