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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New Spokane police cars handle test runs with quiet ease

Spokane police Officer Glenn Bartlett has transitioned from the discontinued Ford Crown Victoria to the more fuel efficient but smaller Ford Police Interceptor patrol car. (Colin Mulvany)
Spokane police Officer Glenn Bartlett has transitioned from the discontinued Ford Crown Victoria to the more fuel efficient but smaller Ford Police Interceptor patrol car. (Colin Mulvany)

Gone are the days of putting on studded tires and chains to get around icy, snowy streets for Spokane police Lt. Tom Hendren. He’s driving one of the new cruisers that can be seen around the city, a Ford Police Interceptor.

Hendren made it through the recent bad weather without a hitch. “It just motors, no problem,” he said. “These cars do phenomenal.”

Production of the standard Ford Crown Victoria police cars ceased in 2011. The rear-wheel drive cars were notorious for poor traction and handling on slick roads. Police officers in Spokane trade stories of needing civilians to push their patrol cars up hills.

“I remember times when you just couldn’t get there, even with chains,” Hendren said.

Costing about $28,000 apiece, the Interceptors have all-wheel drive and other features that boost handling. Hendren said a pair of training officers took a couple of the new cars out in deep snow to try to get them stuck. They couldn’t.

The car also boasts “far superior” handling at high speeds and a pursuit mode that keeps engine RPMs up to allow for instant acceleration, Hendren said. “It blows the doors off the Crown Vics in terms of speed and control,” he said.

One drawback is limited legroom that makes the cars a tight fit for tall officers, Hendren said. To address that, the department will buy the small SUV version of the Interceptor in the future, he said. “It’s just a functionality issue.”

Meanwhile, Hendren has discovered other benefits to the new model: Its engine is quieter and people haven’t learned to instantly recognize it yet, making it easier to approach undetected, if necessary.

“The bad guys haven’t adjusted to the profile yet, they haven’t adjusted to the headlight pattern,” he said.

Even though the new cars with black-and-white color scheme are noticeable on the street, the department has not increased its vehicle budget to buy them, police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said. The city has spent less on cars in recent years.

“We’ve actually really worked hard to keep our fleet expenses down,” Cotton said. “We’re not going out and buying large amounts of cars.”

In 2010 the department spent $925,524 on new cars. That dropped to $778,137 in 2011 and $609,334 in 2012. Last year, the department spent $646,951 on 25 new Interceptors.

The price includes all the equipment for the car as well: light bars, radios and a metal partition between the front and back seats. Equipment from old cars is reused as much as possible, Cotton said.

Patrol cars typically are replaced after 90,000 to 100,000 miles of use. At that point, it makes more financial sense to replace them, Cotton said.

“A newer car needs less maintenance,” she said. “We want to make sure that when someone calls us for help, we can respond quickly.”

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