New Morton Grove police cars ready for duty

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The new 2013 Morton Grove Dodge Charger police car

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When the Village of Morton Grove's police vehicles were ready for retirement, police chief Mark Erickson needed to make a decision. The old Crown Victorias had served the department well, but Ford was discontinuing the model. Erickson turned to Mayor Dan Staackmann for his advice. Staackmann is a one-time semi-professional stock car driver and an ASE-Certified mechanic.

"For many years, Ford Motor Company's Crown Victoria dominated the police interceptor market," Staackmann said. "However, when Chrysler Corporation's Dodge division introduced the Charger a few years ago, Ford suddenly had a worthy competitor. The Dodge Charger offered everything required for a proper police vehicle in addition to having a serious sense of style."

Police vehicles are typically full-sized, body-on-frame, rear wheel drive, domestically produced sedans that are modified at the factory for severe service. Referred to as a Police Package, the vehicle's modifications include a reinforced frame, heavy-duty suspension and brakes, and dual exhaust. Auxiliary coolers are included for the power steering, transmission fluid and engine oil. A high output alternator, heavy-duty battery and special electrical harness are added to accommodate the two-way radio and emergency lights. The interior is bland when compared to civilian versions meaning a rubber mat replaces the carpeting and the padded front seats are a commercial grade of vinyl or cloth. A series of gauges to monitor oil pressure, volts and engine temperature are installed in the dashboard with a certified speedometer and a meter to keep track of the engine's running time. A special ignition key allows the vehicle to operate with the key removed from the ignition switch.

Erickson noted that police vehicles have changed dramatically over the years. As a 29-year veteran of the police department, he has seen a variety of police cars come and go. The new Chargers impress him.

"When the first Chargers arrived my officers were anxious to drive them," he said. "The level of enthusiasm was actually a boost to morale. The officers had a hand in the design of the car's graphics. And the Chargers have created some interest among our residents."

How?

"We displayed our first new Charger at local events last summer," Erickson said. "It was a big hit, especially at the car shows where people had automotive knowledge. Our participation in these community events, with our vehicle as a special attraction, is beneficial public relations for the department. The goal is to help build confidence and trust among the citizens and our officers."

So, what about the dramatic changes to police cars over the years?

"Most of those changes are safety and performance-related," Erickson said. "Police cars are still primarily full size sedans although some departments are now using SUVs. Safety improvements include air bags and anti-lock brakes. But where we really notice the difference is in the handling and performance of the new cars compared to the old ones. The new cars don't overheat on hot summer days and the all-wheel drive is great in the winter. The engine's modern fuel injection system is superior to the old carburetors and is more fuel-efficient too. The engine runs smoothly in all types of weather."

As technology continues to evolve so does the police car. Erickson noted the improvements to emergency lighting.

"Police vehicles' emergency lighting began with a single windshield frame mounted spotlight," he said. "Then came the roof mounted flashing red lights, single revolving Mars light, twin revolving lights and finally the enclosed revolving lights/siren combination. Now we have LED strobe lights that are much brighter and more reliable. The LED lights are visible for greater distances and the bulbs rarely need replacing."

An Indiana-based company, Carbon Motors, is currently building a prototype of what they claim is the ultimate police car. The E7 was designed from scratch and with much input from law enforcement agencies. The E7 features an aluminum space frame body; radiation, chemical and biological detection; rear hinged doors that make it easier to seat and remove prisoners; and a 300 horsepower turbo diesel engine. The E7 will be available for duty in fall of 2013.

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David Lewis is a publicist and writer based in Morton Grove, Illinois. He may be contacted at: www.lcipr.com.