MINNEAPOLIS — Among the many things Dan Starry learned to do before becoming a law enforcement officer 18 years ago was how to handle a patrol car — the venerable, reliable Ford Crown Victoria.
The Crown Vic, the sight of which has made motorists straighten up and drive attentively for more than three decades, has long been an iconic part of police department arsenals. On Wednesday, however, the last Crown Victoria will be rolling off the Ford assembly line near St. Thomas, Ontario, and they will gradually begin disappearing from the roadways.
"I think for cops on the street, the No. 1 question is: 'What are you going to replace it with?'" said Starry, who is now chief deputy with the Washington County, Minn., Sheriff's Department. "Will the new cars be as dependable? Will they handle as well?"
Last revived by Ford in 1980, regular consumers haven't been able to buy a Crown Vic new since 2008. But sales to police departments have remained strong; Crown Vics hold 70 percent of the patrol car market. Last year, for example, 33,725 Crown Vics were sold nationally for use as squad cars, taxis and other fleet vehicles.
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As state and local law enforcement agencies begin budgeting for next year and retiring their Crown Vics, they are faced with more than the typical car shopping.
A Crown Vic costs about $22,000 to $25,000 before equipment and graphics are added, which can bring the price to near $40,000. Along with extra training, another concern is whether the equipment that departments have on hand will be compatible with the new cars or whether all new gear will have to be purchased.
Sgt. Jim Ramstad, who's in charge of the squad cars for the St. Paul (Minn.) Police Department, said the city replaces about 10 percent of its 303-vehicle fleet each year. His agency is looking primarily at three options: a new police interceptor from Ford based on its newly revamped Taurus, the Chevrolet Caprice and Dodge Charger, both of which have made inroads on the squad car market.
"I've got to know probably by the first week of January which way we're going," Ramstad said. A committee that includes Ramstad himself, the fleet mechanic and the department's driving instructors is looking at options.
In Lexington, police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said the department probably won't be getting any new cruisers for a while, but when it does, it will consider the Ford Taurus.
"We haven't made any decisions," she said.
Ford's new Police Interceptor is built specifically for police departments. A sport-utility vehicle based on the Explorer is also being added to the Ford line, giving police two options.
The front-wheel drive is an advantage in snowy climates, and upgrades comply with more stringent standards for emissions and gas mileage, Navarro said.