The newest addition to the Tracy Police Department car fleet is a tryout of the latest in patrol muscle cars.
The department took delivery two weeks ago of a 2007 Dodge Charger, Daimler-Chrysler’s recent entry into the police car market, and expects to have it on regular patrols by next week.
Administrative Sgt. Tony Sheneman said it’s too early to tell if the Charger will replace the Ford Crown Victoria as the department’s favored police car, but Tracy police figured it would be worth a try.
The new car will be part of the 29-car patrol fleet and will be on the street for two of three shifts every day. In addition to their regular reports, officers will fill out forms that rate the car’s handling, speed and roominess.
"We’ll use that questionnaire to gauge whether this particular vehicle is acceptable to patrol staff," Sheneman said.
The city bought the car for just more than $30,000 after the police department sought bids, with Amador Motors Inc. of Jackson submitting the only bid. The most recent purchase of patrol cars before that was nearly $97,600 for four Crown Victorias, about $24,400 per-car, from Senator Ford in Sacramento.
The department pays another $20,000 or so per car to install on-board computers, video cameras, lights, sirens, seats and the metal screen between the front and back seats of the car.
Chief David Krauss said one of the selling points for the Dodge is that it could cost less to add special equipment. He expects the Dodge might also be faster and handle better. The car has Dodge’s trademark 340-horsepower, 5.7-liter, eight-cylinder Hemi engine.
The car reportedly goes from zero to 60 mph in six seconds, and the speedometer tops out at 160 mph.
But the car is also about 4 inches narrower than the Crown Victoria, meaning an officer with all of his or her equipment would have a tight fit in the front seat. And the windows are smaller, so visibility through the side and back windows is restricted. Plus, the back seat where suspects sit is much smaller, with little leg and foot room.
"We’re not making any commitment yet," Krauss said. "We’re seeing how they will hold up and if the officers like them better."
"Frankly, Ford has had a corner on the market. It’s almost like a monopoly," he said. "We’ll just have to see what (Dodge’s) product is."
Sheneman added that it will take about three years, which is how long the department typically keeps a patrol car, to get an idea of how durable the Dodge is. Tracy usually sells its cars at auctions as they approach 100,000 miles, though he mentioned that some agencies keep their Fords until they’re at nearly 200,000 miles.
Steve McCarty, general sales manager at Amador Motors, said his company took a leap of faith this spring when it ordered 20 of the cars, not knowing if police departments would be interested in the new model.
After delivering Tracy’s car, he has only one left and has eight more on order. He said police departments in Pleasanton, Sutter Creek, Grass Valley and Yreka wanted the cars, and other dealers in Idaho and Arizona bought cars from him after their local police agencies decided to try them out.
"Since we’ve sold those cars, everybody and their brother wants one, now that we don’t have any," he said. "I’m going to have to tell all these people that I’ll have to order them and they’ll be here in 10 weeks."