FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – They have more room, they’re easier to get in and out of and they have four-wheel drive.
And they, like with so many other departments around the country, are becoming the new face of Fort Wayne Police.
A new shipment of 29 marked Ford Explorers were ordered for city police last month as the department continues to phase out the Impalas officers once drove for new sport utility vehicles.
The main reason for the switch, comfort and space aside, is one of necessity.
“Basically, they quit making police cars,” Deputy Chief Martin Bender said.
Departments all over the country have been buying sport utility vehicles in in the wake of Dodge announcing plans to discontinue the Charger – a staple for many police agencies – by 2024.
That’s been especially the case in suburban or rural departments. The Decatur Police Department now uses mainly SUVs, and the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department has a number of SUVs and trucks within its fleet.
Indiana State Police have some truck and SUVs in its fleet, but are considering mixing in Dodge Durangos or some other sport utility vehicles in with the department’s Chargers soon, according to one spokesman, though plans for that have yet to be finalized.
The Allen County Sheriff’s Department has a few trucks in its fleet but is still relying on its fleet of Chargers.
Fort Wayne officers drove Impalas for years, but Chevrolet is no longer making those for police use.
The Explorers and Tahoes manufactured for police have heavier suspension plus towing and pursuit capabilities, Bender said. Then, there’s the added room for the seemingly ever-growing equipment officers are now being required to carry with them daily.
Gone are the days when officers had just a clipboard, a flashlight and maybe a coat – as Bender had when he started in the 1970s. Now, officers are carrying a shotgun along with their in-car computer, the cage in the back, a radio and other odds and ends.
That doesn’t even take into account officers who are members of specialty units.
“Somebody on the SWAT team carries 600 pounds of equipment with them,” Bender said. “The passenger cars just weren’t big enough anymore.”
The four-wheel drive helps in the winter months, Bender said, and nobody is complaining about having some extra space to move around in or get in and out easier.
Bender, who manages the department’s fleet, said he’s chosen mainly Explorers for the marked vehicles because they are about $3,000 – $6,000 cheaper than the Tahoes. The city has bought some Tahoes, though none of them are marked and not all of them are pursuit capable, according to city records.
The latest purchase of 29 marked Explorers cost about $975,000, and another order of 20 unmarked Explorers cost roughly $666,000, according to city records.
Those vehicles go for more than the typical police sedan has gone for in the past, but Bender added that they are finding the SUVs are lasting longer than the patrol cars did. The department uses an algorithm – taking into account miles driven on a car, whether it’s been damaged or in a crash – to determine when to replace a vehicle.
The Impalas would last about 125,000 miles before needing to be replaced. Some SUVs bought several years ago are still going at 130,000 to 140,000 miles, according to Bender.
“We’re getting about one-and-a-half times the service out of them,” Bender said.
The department has one marked pickup truck that is fully tricked out to meet all police needs, as well as several unmarked trucks that are mainly used for hauling materials and equipment – especially for the bomb squad, according to Bender.
“I try to keep our fleet as fresh as possible,” he said.
Still, there are still some Impalas out and about. Bender’s not about to get rid of a vehicle until the department has gotten everything it can out of it, he said. So, the Impalas still exist. Only they are now for select officers in the force.
“If they’re a rookie, they’re driving an Impala,” Bender said.