Why Crown Vics are tops with cops
By BY LARRY PRINTZ, The Virginian-Pilot
© September 9, 2006
Maybe you haven't noticed, but it seems that every police officer drives a Ford Crown Victoria.
With more modern alternatives available, you have to wonder what law enforcement officials find so appealing about the full-sized, American car dating to the late 1970s.
Of the 62,545 Crown Victorias sold in 2005, 47,300 were Crown Victoria Police Interceptors - 80 percent of all police cars sold in the United States. Only 6,908 Crown Victorias went to retail buyers, with the remainder going to fleet buyers.
According to Tony Gratson, government sales manager for Ford Motor Company, the car is popular with law enforcement for what it offers: lots of space, rear-wheel drive and a V-8 engine.
"It's a larger car, full-sized. It's much larger than the Chevrolet police car. It has great visibility all the way around," explains Skip Webb, fleet manager at Hall Automotive in Virginia Beach. Webb sells fleet vehicles throughout Virginia, including police cars from all domestic manufacturers, such as the Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Impala.
"The Dodge has limited visibility to the rear. The Chevrolet Impala is not as large a car. Once you put a screen or a barricade behind the driver to protect the officer from whoever is riding in the back seat, it's very limited."
Cpl. Ollan Burruss, of the Norfolk Police Department, says this was a consideration when deciding whether to purchase Impalas.
"When we put the cage in there for the safety of our officers, the seats won't go back far enough. So larger officers have problems getting in and out of the car, and there are restrictions in the back seat. The amount of room they have in the back is limited."
Burruss also says the Ford has a presence that the Chevrolet lacks.
"When you're in the Crown Victoria, people tend to take notice. They're not running red lights, they're paying attention. The car stands out more, and that makes me feel more secure. Even in an unmarked Impala, people do all kinds of stupid stuff, and you're like, 'you know, don't they know I'm a police officer?"
Aside from space and presence, police need their vehicles to be durable - especially patrol cars, which run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Crown Victoria is built the same way as most trucks, using body-on-frame construction. This lends the Crown Victoria the durability to withstand the tough demands expected of it, while making it easier to fix than its competitors.
"It's a lot more expensive to repair a front-wheel-drive vehicle than it is a rear-wheel-drive vehicle," says Burruss.
"For a lot of front-wheel-drive vehicles, you've got to drop the transmission and pull the motor. If you have a problem with the driveshaft in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, you put in new u-joints and you're on your way."
Police departments do buy vehicles other than Crown Victorias. In Norfolk, detectives usually drive Chevrolet Impalas. SUVs, such as the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Tahoe, are bought for weather emergencies, since Norfolk's streets flood easily. Except for the rear-wheel-drive Tahoe, SUVs aren't pursuit-rated, limiting their usefulness.
Ford has maintained its leadership by setting up a police advisory board to suggest ways of improving the Crown Victoria for police use. This has led to such safety features, as a factory-installed fire-suppression system and ballistic door panels that provide protection from projectiles, including bullets.
It's also led to some extreme testing. Ford is the only manufacturer that rear crash tests their police car at 75 mph, to ensure the front-seat space remains intact in high-speed impacts.
While Ford changes the car to improve its performance or safety, the change is never radical. "Police departments want the car to stay the same, but they want it to improve. For instance, you don't want to make them buy new cages," explains Gratson.
Money is always an issue, not simply in equipping or maintaining the cars, but buying them as well. This is where the Crown Victoria holds the advantage, according to Burruss.
"From what I've been told, the average price is about $25-$26,000 for the Dodge Charger police package. Right now, it costs us $18,000 for a Crown Victoria. For the price of three Chargers, you can buy four Crown Victorias."
This adds up to a vehicle that most departments will continue to buy, according to Webb.
"It's been a good vehicle that's lasted a long time for the departments. They would really have to have a reason to change it. The other vehicles have not offered everything that the Crown Victoria does."