In coming years, if Colorado Springs residents notice more SUVs being piloted by Springs Police officers, it’s not their imagination.
That’s because Colorado Springs Police Department is converting to SUVs from the Dodge sedans used as police cruisers for decades.
The switch stems chiefly from the fact that Dodge no longer manufactures the Dodge Charger with the police package, and no other automakers sell a police package sedan, says CSPD’s Senior Public Communications Supervisor Robert Tornabene.
“There is not necessarily an intent to change to SUVs,” Tornabene notes via email. “Purchasing the [Chevy] Tahoes is just part of our continual fleet management, replacing old cars with new ones. Since the Charger was no longer being produced, it was determined the Tahoe was our next best option to accommodate all the officers gear and seat two officers comfortably.”
But he also notes that SUVs provide “increased visibility,” because the driver sits higher than in a cruiser, and they offer more space inside. Lastly, not all of the department’s Chargers have all-wheel drive, whereas all the SUVs will.
“In our current climate, having AWD vehicles is certainly beneficial,” Tornabene says.
But the change isn’t happening just here. A website called motor1.com reported last July that law enforcement agencies, like consumers, are moving toward SUVs and trucks, which have become dominant as patrol vehicles across the nation.
All that said, the SUVs — the Chevrolet Tahoe as chosen by CSPD — carry not only a higher price tag to begin with, but also cost more to outfit with law enforcement equipment such as lights and sirens and other mechanical devices, as well as cost more for fuel.
For decades, law enforcement mostly relied on sedans, such as Ford’s Crown Victoria or the Dodge Charger, for patrol.
But law enforcement agencies are increasingly turning to SUVs, reports Police1.com, a site dedicated to police issues.
In a 2019 article, the site noted the main reason for the shift is room and cargo space, according to David “Doc” Halliday, a former commander of the Michigan State Police Precision Driving Unit and the Vehicle Test Team, who also served on the Ford Police Advisory Board and the General Motors Law Enforcement Product Council.
Decades ago, officers were equipped with a radio, first aid kit and flares, he said, but since then the equipment requirements have grown to include computers and other support gear.
Tornabene, with CSPD, notes officers carry full-size ballistic shields and WMD [weapons of mass destruction] equipment, including personal protective gear and nuclear, chemical and biological masks, along with weapons.
If two officers must ride together, such as for training purposes, a sedan lacks space for all the gear they need to have with them at all times, he says.
In deciding which make and model to go with, Tornabene says, cargo capacity became a big factor, with the Ford Police Interceptor being eliminated because it’s smaller than the Dodge Durango and Chevy Tahoe.
The Tahoe, though, has more room, and the seats were designed to accommodate a patrol officer’s duty belt, “which typically causes heavy wear and tear and eventually seats must be replaced.”
Police1.com also noted the same SUV used for a K9 unit can be used by a crime scene investigator with specialized equipment, and in some cases a supervisor SUV has been rigged to serve as a mini command center.
Replacement won’t happen overnight. Tornabene says the department bought 55 Tahoes last year and plans to buy 41 this year.
“How many vehicles we purchase each year is dependent upon the budget authorized each year by the City,” he says. “Once the budget is approved, we begin determining how many cars we can replace. We chose which cars to replace based on a variety of factors including age, mileage, and annual maintenance costs. We work with the City Fleet Department to help prioritize our replacement list.”
But, not surprisingly, he adds, “We have more cars to replace than we do budget.”
As of Jan. 30, CSPD had 335 “active” Chargers of various ages and mileage readings, most of them assigned to patrol.
The department had 213 SUVs of various makes, models and ages that are used by patrol and other divisions, he says.
“These numbers change depending on the delivery of new vehicles or whether a vehicle must be taken out of service for a variety of reasons,” he says. “We are still waiting for the final 15 Tahoes to arrive that were purchased in 2022.”
Tornabene says a complete conversion will depend on annual budgets, and he adds that “if manufacturers start to produce a new police vehicle that we determine is more viable, we could switch to purchasing something different than the Tahoe.
[H]aving AWD vehicles is certainly beneficial.
— Robert Tornabene, CSPD
“We are constantly looking at the marketplace and determining what will meet our department’s needs,” he says.
The SUVs bring higher purchase costs — $44,971 for a 2023 Tahoe versus $29,116 for a 2021 Charger — and higher police package costs — $28,417 for the Tahoe versus $15,316 for the Charger. That makes for a difference in the total cost of $28,956 per unit, according to figures CSPD provided.
As for fuel, a Charger gets about 18 miles to the gallon, so the 18,000 miles a year it’s driven by an officer costs from $3,000 (at $3 per gallon) to $4,000 (at $4 per gallon).
The 2023 Tahoes can go 16 miles per gallon, making their comparable fuel cost range from $3,375 to $4,500 per year.
When police vehicles have run their course, they’re sold, though a few have been donated to other departments “under certain circumstances,” Tornabene says.
“In some cases, old patrol cars go to the training academy for use during a few classes until another batch of new cars comes in,” he adds. “We try to keep the best of the old cars cycling through the academy before final disposition.”
Colorado State Patrol is also making the change.
CSP said on its website in mid-2021 that the agency “in its continued pursuit of keeping the public and Troopers safe on our roadways is slowly phasing out the familiar silver and black Dodge Charger and taking on a new look. The Dodge Durango is set to replace the Dodge Charger fleet over a five-year transition period, becoming the next vehicle platform for the CSP.”
Lt. Colonel Barry Bratt cited reasons similar to CSPD’s, but also noted the rear hatch on an SUV provides a larger surface for reflective graphics to reduce crashes when troopers are stopped on roadways.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office reports it has 109 vehicles dedicated to patrol/law enforcement operations, 51 of which are SUVs.
“Sheriff [Joe] Roybal does intend to transition this portion of the fleet entirely to SUVs with a few specialty vehicle exceptions over the next few years,” spokesperson Deb Mynatt says in an email. “SUVs have proven to be more capable, reliable and versatile for law enforcement deployment. This is especially true in a county as geographically diverse as ours with unique weather events as well.”