The Santa Barbara Police Department is in the process of upgrading its fleet of patrol cars as the force’s current stock of Ford Crown Victoria cruisers reaches the end of its lifespan. The new model of choice is the Ford Explorer.
When Ford stopped making Crown Vics in 2011 — the burly sedans were a staple of police departments and taxi companies nationwide for decades — the SBPD bought a number of them and stored the reserves at the airport. The department has since burned through the remaining cars and is now looking for a new model to adopt.
The department purchased five Chevy Caprices, but “they have not been well-received by our officers,” said police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood. Most of the officers found them too small to accommodate patrol car equipment — a computer, keyboard, camera, weapons, backseat barrier, and so on. Each Caprice costs $55,940, which includes $41,244 for the car and $14,695 for the parts and labor to have them outfitted for police use.
While the Caprices didn’t work out as expected, the department will still find a niche for them, Harwood said. Ford Explorers have now been ordered instead. They will cost $42,491 each, including parts and labor. Harwood said the department currently has 29 Crown Vics out on the road. It’s conceivable they could all eventually be replaced with Explorers, he said. Other Santa Barbara law enforcement agencies — airport police, CHP, and UCPD — already drive the SUVs, and their popularity is mounting across the state and country. Other agencies favor the Dodge Charger.
Harwood said it’s important for a patrol car to have substantial power. The newest Explorers come with Ford’s new base V6, a 3.7-liter engine with 304 horsepower and 279 lb.-ft. of torque. Agencies can also order the 3.5 EcoBoost with 365 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. Police models usually feature more rugged interiors and ballistic panels inside their doors, Harwood said.
The 2016 model, called the Ford Police Interceptor Utility, can also come with a “Surveillance Mode,” which rolls up the driver’s window and locks the doors when someone approaches from behind. Additionally, it can come equipped with enhanced electrical and cooling systems, special brakes “designed to withstand excessive use,” and a “Pursuit Mode” that Ford says “optimizes upshifts and downshifts for aggressive driving” and is calibrated to perform “a reverse J-turn, which is when a reversing vehicle is spun 180 degrees and continues, face forward, without changing direction of travel.”
Police cars are typically taken out of the SBPD’s rotation after around 100,000 miles, Harwood said. Explorers typically get 16-18 mpg. “Fuel is an expense,” Harwood said, “and it’s something that needs to be budgeted for.” He noted that other department employees, like administrators and detectives, drive Ford Fusions. Details on the department’s undercover cars — called “cold cars” — are kept confidential. They’re never parked at the station, and “you wouldn’t know it was a cop car by looking at it,” Harwood said.