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New Charleston police vehicles loaded with 'Robo-Car' gadgetry

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Charleston law enforcement is getting a new look as more than a dozen brand-new police cruisers are hitting the streets.  

The new cruisers have been making their way onto the streets in the last few weeks. The silver Ford Interceptors are a departure from the all-white Crown Victorias the department has relied on for the past several years.

Ordered in December, the cruisers - 12 Interceptor sedans and three SUVs - were delivered in May, said Lt. Ted Malone, support services commander. The department's patrol division officers will use the sedans. Supervising sergeants will drive the SUVs.

Malone said the department also had the option of Dodge Chargers, a popular choice among local law enforcement agencies, Chevrolet Malibus or Caprices. Ford recently phased out the Crown Victoria, a popular choice in the past.

But Malone said those choices were "civilian cars converted into police cars." Although the Interceptor has the body style of Ford's newly redesigned Taurus sedan, it was designed from the tires up for police work, he said.

"This car has a laundry list of special items, everything from the doors, to the tires, to the engine," Malone said. "It's the first car purpose-built for police.

"Anybody in my position would pick this car."

The tires and brakes are larger to aid officers in patrol and pursuit conditions. He said the Goodyear tires are designed specifically for pursuit driving. The vehicle platforms allow the brakes and tires to interchange for the sedan and the SUV.

The Interceptors are all-wheel drive, as opposed to the rear-wheel drive Crown Victorias.

The six-cylinder engines offer 280 horsepower, as opposed to the Crown Victoria's 250 horsepower. They also get 20 percent better gas mileage. The Interceptor also is a Flex-Fuel vehicle and takes low octane fuel, cutting down on fuel costs.

It also comes equipped with several safety features, such as front and side curtain airbags and an improved braking system that decreases the vehicle's stopping distance. He said the vehicle also was crash tested to withstand a rear-end collision at speeds up to 75 miles per hour.

The next time City Council approves new vehicle purchases, Malone plans to select Kevlar panels for the front doors, offering officers extra protection from gunfire.

"They've just done an outstanding job with this vehicle," he said.

Some of the little gadgets and gizmos included rear-backing sensors to cut down on little scuffs and scrapes on the back bumpers and in-car hands-free cellphone devices allowing officers to use phones in their cars in compliance with state law.

The department ordered the "Ready for the Road" package for the 15 vehicles and the cruisers arrived about 50-percent ready. Some of the factory-installed items included emergency lights, those in the grill and in the back window, and headlight strobes.

The vehicle with the "Ready for the Road" package cost about $26,000. The department then added a little more than $6,000 worth of equipment to the vehicle.

One of the new items included in these vehicles is the WatchGuard digital video system.

The dash-camera makes high-definition recording outside and inside the vehicle. The video is recorded and stored on a thumb drive in the cruiser's trunk, which would be retrievable even in the event of a crash. The system also transmits the video wirelessly to supervisors when the officer returns to the station.

Other add-ons included the "top of the line" Whelen light bar and in-car controls, which were purchased on state contract, the mounted laptop computer and the analog and digital radio systems, Malone said. Those items all were installed on the center console.

He said he spoke to various officers to get an idea of how they wanted the new cruisers to look.

"They all wanted a change from the white," Malone said. "They came back with different colors but several officers said they liked silver."

The vehicles are dark silver with blue and black striping. Malone said Balance, a clothing company on Crescent Road that also does vinyl wraps for vehicles, came in with the lowest bid for the work. It was about $450 to stripe each vehicle.

"Ninety-nine percent of them (the officers) like it," Malone said. "They're happy and a few of them have thanked me."

The cars would have been on the road sooner had it not been for the June 29 windstorm that caused heavy damage around the city, Malone said. The city workers who keep the police department's fleet up to speed were tied up with storm clean up and repairs.

He said it takes two to three days to install equipment and stripe each vehicle.

City Council buys new police cars every year. The department will request 12 more cruisers and five administrative vehicles for detectives next year, he said.

Patrol cars are used only for two years before being transferred to other divisions, Malone said. The Crown Victorias being shifted from patrol will likely go to Community Services or Traffic divisions.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.



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