Chrysler Corporation has been pursuing police fleet business for the past half-century or more with the result that pursuit and patrol cars built by Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth are now the reliable mainstays of law enforcement fleet from coast to coast. Early records show that Dodge commercial vehicles were used as police paddy wagons shortly after the end of World War I. Today, the combination of reliable products and aggressive sales efforts has made Chrysler a major contender in the competition to corner the police fleet market.
"Our success in the police vehicle market can be attributed to a number of factor," says Matt G. Bolin, director of marketing for Chrysler's fleet diving. "Plymouth and Dodge police offering have earned a good reputation for being top performers in a very competitive market. In addition to an extensive design and development program, we constantly evaluate our products in the field," Bolin explains. Just over a year ago, Automotive Fleet reported that the Chicago Police Department was in the midst of adding 600 Dodge Monacos to its fleet. As an update to that report, we find the Monacos have been put to just about every real-life test imaginable, including high-speed expressway pursuit duty, city street patrol and back-alley crime busting with the result that the cars just don't seem to fail when the going gets critical.
For this report, we sample police fleet opinion from North Carolina to California and find that Chrysler products remain high on the list of cars to re-order, even though the replacement process often involves complicated bidding procedures unlike any obstacle found in private industry.
Among police orders currently being filled by Chrysler-Plymouth and Dodge, the California Highway Patrol is adding 1.426 Monacos to it black and white patrol fleet, while recycling a similar number of units into the used car market. The Michigan State Police Department just downsized nearly half its fleet by acquiring 500 copies of the 1877 intermediate Plymouth Fury. Police in Salt Lake City, Utah, are covering their hot, dry beats in a 192-unit fleet of new '77 Volares, '76 Darts and Plymouth Satellites dating from 1971. Also, the North Carolina Highway Patrol is currently replacing 575 cruisers in its 1,250-unit fleet with the Plymouth Gran Fury Brougham. Powered by road-burning 440-cubic-inch, four-barrel-carb-equipped hemi-head engines, the '77 Gran Fury Broughams will give North Carolina Troopers a pursuit capability clocked with the fastest in the nation.
John Grow, manager of transportation services for the California Highway Patrol, reports that his agency's big fleet deal of the year also boasts the 440-CID, four-barrel-carb engine which should make the intermediate-size Monaco the car capable of catching anything on West Coast freeways. Besides the hottest available power-plants, the Monacos will be factory-equipped with the standard Dodge police package, which includes heavy duty suspension, radial tires, and heat-resistant wiring.
Additionally, the experience in recent years of California troopers working desert areas has led to the development of external crankcase oil and transmission fluid cooling systems. Grow says that by working with Chrysler engineers, California police technicians indentified an engine oil heat problem and developed radiator-type coolers that cut oil temperatures from over 300-degrees to a more manageable 250-degrees. Although the oil cooling system was originally designed to combat California's damaging desert heat, Chrysler now offers the device as part of its police package for use in any area of the country where temperatures become critical.
Another California innovation in police package specifications is the use of silicone rubber heater and radiator hoses which are found to have far greater blowout resistance when hot engines are called on for hot pursuit duty over hot highways. Grow says the switch to silicone hoses has solved what had been a serious and potentially dangerous problem. As with the oil cooling systems, Chrysler now offers the silicone hoses as elements of the police package.
Headquartered in Sacramento, the 2,000 mostly Chrysler-built cars of the California Highway Patrol will run 110-million miles this year and will be kept in service for an average of 75,000 miles each before they are reconditioned and disposed of at sealed-bid public sales. Grow says the cars average 16 months of service before they are replaced.
Although the dominant car of the California Highway Patrol is Chrysler built, Grow points out that his agency is constantly testing cars from all the major manufacturers. The law enforcement unit routinely draws up specifications based on test results, then invites the carmakers to respond with their sealed bids, Grow reports.
The California experience of developing an element of the police package based on problems encountered in real-life use is not unique to the Chrysler police fleet story.
"Today's police packages and vehicles are custom designed to fit the demanding environment police cars operate in," Chrysler's Matt Bolin says. "The product design cycle includes both long range and intermediate range planning. Performance and reliability characteristics are specified in the advance product plan. Individual components are tested extensively in the development process," Bolin reports.
Where almost all law enforcement agencies test their cars before they buy, few departments are as thorough as the Michigan State Police. Headquartered in East Lansing with the Michigan International Speedway and test tracks of the various carmakers at its disposal, the agency has developed a seven-part evaluation procedure that rates a car according to demanding state-established specifications.
Sgt. Dave Storer of Michigan's policy development and evaluation section said the test program is conducted year-round on cars provided by the major manufacturers. But Sgt. Storer says his department acquired its first Plymouth in 1959, has been positioned exclusively in Plymouth patrol cars since 1969 and is adding 500 units from the Plymouth Fury line during 1977.
"Chrysler Corporation seems to have more of an interest in the police fleet business than the other car companies," Sgt. Storer explains.
Key elements of the Michigan evaluation procedure include acceleration, vehicle dynamics, top speed, braking, communications, occupant comfort and fuel economy, Sgt. Storer points out. Because the Michigan test is weighted, the best bottom line score will identify the carmaker whose bid is most likely to be accepted, Sgt. Storer says, if the price is right, too.
Al Budden, chief of the Michigan State Police Department's administrative services section, says the 1,300 patrol cars in the fleet will roll 25-million miles this year, operating from 65 separate posts scattered around the state. Budden says the department relies on outside dealers, garages and other service facilities to keep the cars rolling. Responsibility for fleet maintenance lies with the 65 post commanders, Budden says, with each driver being issued a packet of coupons good for a variety of preventive maintenance services.
The coupon concept assures that individual state troopers will routing bring their cars in for service - or explain why they didn't to their post commander - Budden says. Michigan's experience with the entirely vendor-supplied preventive maintenance program is considered a success based on the fact that the cars normally attain 60,000 miles of reliable use before they are replaced, Budden concludes.
Where the Michigan department's tests are comprehensive and demanding, no police agency's pre-purchase evaluations are as complete as those conducted by Chrysler. Test programs are run not only at the Chrysler Engineering Center at Highland Park, Michigan, but also at the corporation's Chelsea Proving Grounds. The company's Michigan tests are in addition to field tests conducted by selected police agencies to accumulate an ever-expanding body of real-life data, supplementing the material based on simulated conditions.
The Chelsea Providing Grounds tests are designed not only to measure endurance, but also to simulate evaluation programs of various police agencies. The police brake test, for instance, requires a series of eight 90 mph stops plus two 60 mph stops, which approximates a test procedure used by the Los Angeles Police Department. Police vehicles are also subjected to long term tests such as the Accelerated Fleet Endurance Cycle - a 25,000 mile evaluation that uses only the most tortuous roads at Chelsea. Other tests measure handling, performance, heating and cooling, interior comfort and a variety of factors important to the final development of the production vehicle.
The product development cycle presents different challenges for new product lines. Chrysler introduced the popular Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare family of cars in 1976, but waited a year to offer a police version of these cars.
"Our development program for the Aspens and Volares included a full year of prototype testing," says Dave Hubbs, manager of product planning for fleet vehicles. "While we knew that the interior packaging of these cars was far better than competition, we wanted a total police vehicle from the start. The extensive development program meant that the overall performance of this smaller car would be competitive with its earlier, larger counterparts."
Chrysler's Volare development program is helping the Salt Lake City Police Department cut its operating expenses by some 25-percent in maintenance costs and 31-percent for fuel outlays, Phil Erickson, the department's fleet manager reports. Erickson says the 192 cars in the fleet have been burning a minimum of 10,000 gallons of fuel less each month since the department went to Dart last year and Volares at the start of the 1977 model year. The fleet boss says the fuel and maintenance savings are based on 1975 figures, which was the last year the department was positioned entirely in Plymouth Satellites.
When Salt Lake City first began downsizing its police cars, "There was a great deal of opposition by patrol people," Erickson recalls. Now, however, the police drivers have gotten used to the smaller Darts are Volares and give the cars high marks for performance and comfort.
Erickson, who is responsible for the maintenance of all the Salt Lake City public safety equipment, which includes trucks and fire department vehicles in addition to the police cars, relies on the computerized fleet management and maintenance services of Mainstem Corporation of Princeton, New Jersey. The Mainstem system utilizes Salt Lake City garage facilities and staff to see that all the cars in the city-owned fleet will deliver 70,000 miles of tough patrol duty before they are recycled.
Where Salt Lake City employs an outside agency to assist in its garage work the eight garages of the North Carolina Highway Patrol are regularly inspected by Chrysler representatives and are certified to perform warranty work on the Chrysler-built cars of the 1,250-unit fleet. A.L. Craig, auto procurement and disposal officer for the department, reports that his fleet is in the process of acquiring 575 Plymouth Gran Fury Broughams that will be kept in service for 60,000 miles in the two years they remain on patrol.
Craig says winning approval of Chrysler to certify the state garages as warranty work centers is unique to police fleet management. Employing some 80 mechanics, the garages perform 99-percent of the fleet's preventive maintenance and repair work, going to outside vendors only for frame-straightening jobs. Working from the department's Raleigh headquarters, Craig reports that maintenance and repair costs are only 50-percent of what they would be if the department used commercial garages and other outside vendors.
North Carolina last replaced its entire police fleet in 1970. Since then, approximately half the fleet has been recycled each year. Craig recalls that with the exception of 1969, Chrysler has been the successful bidder for North Caroline Highway Patrol cruisers every year since 1967. Typically, the cars are used by only one driver who has around-the-clock control of the vehicle, taking it home at the end of each day's duty.
Max Baldwin, chief of purchasing for the North Carolina agency, says the Gran Fury Broughams currently being added to the fleet require some 50 special items that are not usually found in the police package. Besides a number of performance goodies that procedures is conducted in the plant and also after assembly," Bolin says. "Also, a spot check program pulls a sample of vehicles from the final line and pouts them through a full Proving Grounds evaluation."
Bolin reports the company also backs up police fleet customers with field service training ad computerized stocking the maintenance parts in depots near the fleet operator.
Chrysler regularly and aggressively bids on about 50,000 police cars annually and concedes that they obtain a substantial (over 50-percent) number of new police cars ordered.
COPS, ROBBERS AND RETREADS
The tranquility and safety of Westbrook, Maine, a suburb of Portland, may depend this year on the performance of retread tires. Seven of the local Police Department's nine squad cars now use retreads in fair weather of foul, come high speed chase of routine patrol.
"We're found that retread tires offer good mileage, considerable cost savings and the kind of performance we can depend on to catch the criminal at minimum danger to ourselves," Police Chief Leroy Darling says. "We plan to put retreads on our other two car, and our motor Scooter and van, as soon as their present tires wear out."
The Westbrook Police Department, which employs 30 men and one woman, began its transition to retreads in 1974 to reduce its heavy annual expenditure for new tires.
"Police cars go through tires like cigarette4s," says Chief Darling. "They are heavier than normal cars and are used almost 24 hours a day - often for strenuous driving over every conceivable kind of road surface. Our new radial tires woe out after 10,000 miles. Since our cars average 50,000 miles per year, we had to buy five sets of new tires for each car.
"To cut this expense, we bought retreads, which cost $20 less per tire, on an experimental basis. It was a pleasant surprise to find that they stood up to rough use better than new tires, averaging 17,000 miles per tire. So we began routinely to replace worn out tires with retreads."
Chief Darling, who also does purchasing for the department, calculates that the force has saved $2,500 on a total of 120 retread tires over two years. It also gained an additional 100,000 miles of tire life cost-free. "Of the 120 retread tires purchased, only two have proved defective and had to be replaced," he says.
The department's success with retreads is due in large part to superior tire care - both within the department and from the local retreader, Noyes Tire Co., notes the chief. "Our officers inspect the tires carefully for proper inflation (28 lbs.) at the beginning of every eight-hour shift. They are also trained to check tire balance and alignment.
"We obtain high quality retreads to begin with, and follow up with complete tire service at the garage every month. We also receive prompt service whenever we need it in the field."
Safe police driving and ordinary driving are two different things. Does Chief Darling feel safe on retreads in a high speed chase? "Last fall a motorist who turned out to be drunk led me on a chase through country roads that reached speeds up to 100 miles per hour before it finally ended in the driver's capture. I didn't for a moment hesitate to trust my retreads," he says.