Cop Car Clash
Will Seattle's New Fleet Be SUVs or Hippie Hybrids?
When Ford announced it would stop producing Crown Victorias, the staple of police car fleets from New York to Los Angeles, in 2011, police departments across the country realized they'd have to find a new model of squad car to phase in as old ones wore out. The decision must be made carefully: Police cars must withstand constant use, dangerous driving, and all weather conditions; suspects must be able to get in and out of them safely while handcuffed; and, as cities make fleets more environmentally sound, there are serious concerns about fuel efficiency.
Here in Seattle, the city has identified a half dozen potential replacement models for its fleet of around 300 cop cars, tested them for more than a year, and said it will announce a winner in the next few months.
But while city spokespeople say the process is going smoothly—and it's partly on hold now while the mayor's office changes hands—the union representing roughly 1,200 Seattle cops seems to feel otherwise, claiming that a decision was already made by officers and then rejected at city hall.
In the November issue of the Guardian, the newspaper of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG), vice president Sergeant Ty Elster complains that the city ignored cops' recommendation. He writes that "after many months of SPOG members testing, evaluating, and researching vehicles," when the cops announced their pick, "City Hall didn't like our selection."
What was that winning vehicle? A Ford Interceptor SUV.
Just picture it: A brand-new fleet of hulking police SUVs cruising the city while the department tries to soften its image. The department is currently under a federal consent decree that contends police have used excessive force and racially biased tactics. Not to mention the city is also trying to meet new climate goals.
That SUV recommendation came from the SPD, the union, and the city's fleets officials. But it's no wonder Mayor Mike McGinn put on the brakes.
What does the mayor prefer?
According to Elster, McGinn "felt that a hybrid vehicle, such as the Toyota Prius, would be more suitable and 'in tune with city values.'"
Katherine Schubert-Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, which is in charge of purchasing the fleet, says McGinn "deferred acting on the recommendation until additional testing could be completed," which includes a closer look at technology to improve fuel efficiency. McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus declined to comment on specifics, saying only, "It definitely is a city policy that our fleet and buildings should be as green as possible." But no, the Prius is not a real option—it doesn't meet standards for police cars. SPOG did not return requests for comment.
Regardless, the decision will end up in mayor-elect Ed Murray's lap. And adding another wrinkle, a decision on paint color for the cars has not yet been made. The industry standard is a black-and-white car, though Seattle currently uses a color of blue that's a stock color for Ford vehicles—but not the other manufacturers. What if we don't go with Ford? A decision on color will have to come after they choose the car. And it'll be crucial, since, as SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb readily acknowledges, police vehicles serve as "one of the first impressions that people get of their police department," and ours is trying for a bit of a makeover.
Even with fuel efficiency in mind, we may still end up with a larger car. The only hybrid in the mix appears to be a Chevy Tahoe, a large SUV. And as for what color cars we'll be staring at for the next decade, who gets a say in that decision—will there be any public input at all? Will SPOG be itching for a fight?—will be resolved further down the road.