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Going Big: SUVs for Patrol

Because police operations now require much more equipment, many law enforcement agencies have decided the pursuit SUV is the ideal patrol vehicle.

November 12, 2014  |  by - Also by this author

One of the reasons that so many officers and agencies swore by the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor for more than two decades until its retirement in 2011 was all the stuff that it could carry. The Crown Vic could haul all of the equipment necessary for contemporary patrol operations, plus the officers, and still close with and overtake some of the fastest traffic offenders.

Which is why so many law enforcement agencies were unsure about what to do next when Ford ended production of the Panther platform and subsequently retired the Crown Vic. Four years ago it looked like the battle for the Crown Vic's commanding share of the American law enforcement patrol vehicle market would come down to three sedans: the Dodge Charger Pursuit, the Chevrolet Caprice PPV, and the Ford Police Interceptor. But law enforcement agencies have started to rethink their needs and now, by far, the most popular new patrol vehicles coming out of Detroit are pursuit-rated SUVs.

Agencies are buying SUVs to replace sedans for a variety of reasons.

First, it should be noted, these are not soccer mom SUVs. They have the power of muscle cars, and they can hug turns like much smaller vehicles. So agencies that choose to field these pursuit-rated "sport utes" are not sacrificing performance for size.

Which brings us to the real reason law enforcement fleet managers and officers in the field love SUVs. They can carry a lot of stuff, a lot of heavy stuff. And they are also big enough to comfortably seat large officers with all of the equipment on their belts and all of the equipment they need in the field without cramping the operators.

Then there are the intangibles. For example, most speeders don't have eyes peeled for SUVs, which gives highway patrol troopers more stealth than they had when just about every driver could pick out the distinctive black honeycomb grille of the Crown Vic. Also, the raised height of SUVs makes it easier for officers to spot seat belt violators. The New York State Police is even fielding 32 unmarked patrol SUVs in an effort to spot motorists who are texting while they drive.

But perhaps the most important reason some agencies are choosing SUVs over sedans is they offer improved officer safety. Bigger vehicles are generally more survivable in an accident.

Chevrolet

Chevrolet has been making a police pursuit-rated version of the Tahoe for more than a decade. And it is the only full-size SUV to be certified as a police pursuit-rated vehicle. It's also Chevy's best-selling law enforcement vehicle.

"One of the things that is driving sales of the Tahoe in this market is the fact that it has such a large interior. The Tahoe has more space than any other pursuit-rated vehicle and that gives officers the room they need," says Dana Hammer, General Motors' manager for law enforcement fleet.

Hammer says another aspect of the Tahoe PPV that is attractive to law enforcement is its durability. The Tahoe is the only pursuit-rated vehicle constructed with the body-on-frame technique. In other words, it's built like a truck.

The durability of the Tahoe also extends to its drive train. Hammer says customers benefit from the longevity of the Tahoe in one of two ways: resale value or long duty life. Either way, Chevy says the Tahoe offers long-term economic benefits over the traditional patrol sedan, even though it costs a bit more at purchase.

"Resale value on the Tahoe is outstanding," Hammer says. "Two 2011 Tahoe PPVs, each with about 90,000 miles on them, recently sold at auction for $12,000 apiece. Let's say they were purchased new for about $26,000. Then those vehicles cost the agencies that used them $14,000 to $15,000 to drive them for three years."

Selling their Tahoe PPVs at a set number of service miles is one way that agencies can minimize costs on operating the vehicles. Another is to take advantage of the Tahoe's durability and extend the service life. "Truck-based products like the Tahoe can run longer periods with higher mileage because they are built for that and more durable," Hammer says. "We definitely see agencies are running Tahoe PPVs longer than sedans. That lets them spread the cost of ownership over a longer time period."

Another aspect of the Tahoe PPV that makes it economical for law enforcement agencies over its lifecycle is the efficiency of its engine. All 2015 Tahoe PPV models are powered by Chevy's next-generation small block V-8 (officially the 5.3-liter EcoTec3), which produces 385 horsepower and 383 foot-pounds of torque. That's 35 horsepower and 48 foot-pounds more than the previous Tahoe PPV engine. And thanks to direct injection, cylinder deactivation, and other fuel-saving technologies, the 2015 two-wheel-drive version of the Tahoe PPV boasts improved fuel economy of 7% more in city driving and 10% more for highway driving. "This is a real win-win of more power and more efficiency," says Hammer,

The 2015 Tahoe PPV also has been given a major redesign, and for the first time, it's being offered in a four-wheel-drive model.

Chevy says the 2015 Tahoe PPV 4WD is the first four-wheel-drive to be marketed as a law enforcement pursuit vehicle. (Note: Ford's Police Interceptor Utility is all-wheel drive, not four-wheel drive.)

Hammer says customer demand was behind Chevy's decision to offer the Tahoe PPV 4WD. "Obviously four-wheel drive is very big with our customers in the snowbelt," he says. "But there's also a lot of demand in markets that I wouldn't have expected. People want them for driving on beaches, offroad, backroads, and gravel roads."

Sgt. J.E. Brewer, fixed asset manager for the North Carolina Highway Patrol, says his agency is planning to purchase Tahoe PPV 4WD models to replace some of its 250 Tahoes that are aging out. Brewer says he and the NCHP's fleet manager attended the recent Michigan State Police vehicle evaluations and saw the Tahoe PPV 4WD put through its paces. "We were very impressed," he says, adding that the NCHP is waiting for the vehicles to be police certified.

The primary users of the new NCHP Tahoes will be commercial vehicle inspectors who have to carry weight and measurement equipment, but also have to pursue vehicles on the highway. Brewer says the 4WD Tahoes will be mostly assigned to troopers who work in the mountains and need the traction for snow and ice.

Chrysler

The Dodge brand of Chrysler Group does not offer a pursuit-rated SUV, but it does sell the Durango Special Service vehicle to law enforcement as a complement to the Charger Pursuit sedan and the Ram 1500 Special Service Truck.

The Dodge Durango Special Service comes standard with the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6, and is also available with a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8. The 3.6-liter V-6 has a 550-mile driving range, delivers 290 horsepower, and has a 7,400-pound towing capacity.

Features include a heavy-duty brake package, a heavy-duty battery, a larger output 220-amp alternator, heavy-duty water pump, heavy-duty engine cooler, and a customizable rear cargo area with under floor storage areas.

Ford

Just as it was in the patrol sedan market for many years, Ford is the undisputed sales champion in the pursuit-rated SUV market. In fact, the company's midsize Ford Police Interceptor Utility, which is based on the Ford Explorer SUV, is the best-selling vehicle in American law enforcement.

The Ford Interceptor Utility debuted in 2012 as a counterpart to the Police Interceptor Sedan. At first the company planned to market a two-wheel-drive version and an all-wheel-drive version as it does with the sedan, but customer preference quickly changed that plan. "Agencies were ordering all-wheel drive 90% of the time," says Jonathan Honeycutt, explaining why the PI Utility is only offered in all-wheel drive.

Honeycutt says when Ford launched the PI Utility, it expected the SUV to be popular with police customers, but not as popular as it has become. "We have definitely been pleasantly surprised," he says.

Asked to explain the popularity, Honeycutt points to space, performance, and payload capability. "The base 3.7-liter engine has a 1,620-pound payload," says Honeycutt, "but it gives you sedan-like performance. If you look at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and Michigan State Police testing results, you'll see that our Utility is very fast and it handles very well. It still has all the Interceptor DNA of safety, durability, and performance."

In addition to its performance and payload capability, another reason that the PI Utility is so popular is price. Despite all of its extra space and capabilities, Honeycutt says the Utility is not significantly more costly than the Sedan. He says the Utility averages about $1,000 more in price over the sedan.

The base model of the Police Interceptor Utility is powered by a 3.7-liter naturally aspirated V-6 engine that generates 305 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque. Buyers can also opt for a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that produces 365 horsepower and 279 foot-pounds of torque.

California Highway Patrol fleet managers selected the PI Utility as its primary patrol vehicle in 2012. One of the key reasons that the CHP chose the Utility over the available sedans was payload requirements.

Eric Lamoureaux, general services spokesman for the CHP, told POLICE in 2012 that the CHP's patrol cars must be able to carry 1,500 pounds. That payload includes 459 pounds of installed equipment, 880 pounds of people, 96 pounds of safety equipment, 87 pounds of stored CHP equipment, and a 55-pound full-size spare tire.

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Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

Lloyd F Reese @ 11/15/2014 8:18 AM

These SUVs are fine for the highway and city streets. However, they have their limitations when used by game wardens or Forest Service LEOs. I've had discussions with both who patrol the GW National Forest. They readily admitted that there are roads in the forest which they describe as "jeep killers". Needless to say, they would kill these SUVs too. For areas like this, I think the best vehicle would be a full size 4x4 crew cab pickup. With a cap on the cargo area, they would have plenty of room for gear.

Richard Ross @ 11/15/2014 9:13 AM

Many of the investigative bureaus are using unmarked pickups (supercab or crewcab). They go anywhere, and besides a man sitting in a sedan anywhere is assumed to be a LEO. Investigators say that the trucks are more durable and can carry them anywhere an investigation takes them.

Patrick @ 11/15/2014 9:26 AM

Technically, the real 4WD version of the Tahoe is still the SSV, and is not pursuit-rated. The AWD Tahoe with similar stance to the 2WD version, is.

Patrick @ 11/15/2014 9:29 AM

I should have read the entire piece before posting twice, apologies. The EcoBoost Interceptors are 365hp/365tq, which is less torque than the F150 and Expedition counterparts, for longevity reasons and, well, who plans to attempt to tow 9k lbs with a shop?

John Evans @ 8/5/2015 7:41 PM

I 've owned a H2 Hummer for several years and have been pulling 25 ft boats and going thru floods ice and snow without any problem at at, and I have pulled out alot of fords and tahoes and suburbans, besides it totally looks the part of law enforcement. Thanks Gentlemen, Be Safe people..

Parris @ 5/21/2016 7:30 PM

Hi, A thought provoking topic this is, a couple thoughts/questions I have are,
Fact- SUVs have a higher "center of gravity" than a traditional sedan.
Fact- Vehicles with a higher COG will rollover easier than those with a lower COG.
So although SUV may add more protection in collisions etc. They definitely are more likely to end up with the shiny side down, especially in a high speed chase.
This idea that SUV provide a better view to see seat belt offenders and texters is ridiculous. One doesn't need an SUV to see someone is unbelted or texting.
Is the trade off worth it?
Also, Before law enforcement auctions off old fleet, do they remove the "cop motor" "cop shocks" "cop brakes" etc.? Because if not? The new owner now has a HP vehicle equal to cops. Just saying.

Parris

Bryan @ 1/12/2017 11:42 AM

Most police vehicles are sold without the light bars and interior electronics. They don't remove the "cop motor", "cop shocks", etc. That would be ridiculous. Plenty of vehicles are sold that have engines that put out more horsepower and torque than police vehicles. And whoever wrote this article apparently does not know much about engines. The ford naturally aspirated 3.7 does not make 350 ft lbs of torque, and the 3.5 ecoboost has never made a lowly 279 ft lbs of torque. I highly doubt it made just the 365 ft lbs either. The first gen ecoboost 3.5 in the Taurus police interceptor made the same 365 hp 420 ft lbs of torque that the f150 made.

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