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City stops buying Tahoes for cops

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Updated: November 24, 2011 12:25AM

The Chevrolet Tahoe was to have been Chicago’s police car of the future, but the city appears to be putting the brakes on plans to replace the aging fleet of Ford Crown Victoria squads with the bulky sport-utility vehicle.

In 2008, the Daley administration inked a three-year contract with a Hodgkins auto dealer to provide the Chicago Police Department with up to 2,000 of the SUVs, with a goal of supplanting its existing fleet of aging “Crown Vics,” a popular — and less expensive — sedan that is stopping production this month.

But as of August, the city had just 611 Tahoes in its patrol armada and appears to be rethinking a strategy that was backed by former police Supt. Jody Weis, the Better Government Association has learned.

After purchasing 341 Tahoes in 2010, the city bought only 11 this year and has no immediate plans to add more, according to Anthony Pascente, spokesman for the city’s Department of Fleet Management.

Pascente said via email that the city hasn’t ruled out buying more Tahoes down the road, but for now the buying spree is over.

So what made the city slam the brakes? The decision was influenced, in part, by the police department’s operational needs and also the cost, Pascente said. At a time when gas prices are astronomical and the city faces a gut-wrenching budget deficit, the Tahoe gets a paltry 11 mpg on E85, a gasoline-ethanol blended fuel that’s generally considered better for the environment, and only 15 mpg on traditional gas.

Also, it’s no secret that some beat cops aren’t huge fans of the Tahoe.

No patrol officers have formally complained about the boxy SUV, according to Lt. Maureen Biggane, of Police News Affairs. But an executive with the city’s police union said many officers dislike the two-wheel-drive Tahoe, even though it boasts extra legroom, because it performs poorly on snow- and ice-covered streets.

“I don’t see them as being the ultimate pursuit vehicle,” says Bill Dougherty, first vice president of Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police. “They didn’t handle well in winter, and they’re terrible trying to go down side streets.”

Patrol officers who spoke to the BGA echoed Dougherty. They like the spacious cabin and higher view of the street but prefer a vehicle that doesn’t skid out on slick roads.

Pascente said one reason the city tapped the Tahoe was because of its performance in an annual test of police vehicles administered by the Michigan State Police. It earned high marks in the 2011 test that measures qualities such as top speed, braking distance and ergonomics.

In an acceleration test, the E85-powered Tahoe went from 0 to 60 mph in an average of 8.24 seconds, besting the gasoline-fueled Crown Victoria’s average time of 8.87 seconds. But the 5.3-liter Tahoe lagged behind the 5.7-liter Dodge Charger, 60 mph in 6.24 seconds using standard fuel, and the 6.0-liter Chevrolet Caprice, 6.18 seconds using unleaded gas and 6.15 with E85.

The Tahoe’s gas mileage in city driving was comparable to the Crown Victoria’s 14 mpg, but it fared worse than the Dodge Charger 3.6-liter with 19 mpg on gas, and the 3.9-liter Chevrolet Impala with 17 mpg on gas and 12 on E85 in the Michigan test. The Caprice, fueled with gas or E85, got 14 mpg in city driving.

So was the Tahoe a bad choice?

It’s more expensive than the Crown Vic, $31,926 vs. $28,506, according to Pascente. And it’s more costly to maintain. The Tahoe’s average annual upkeep (at least in the short run) is $260 more than the Crown Vic police sedan, which debuted in 1983 and is a fixture in police fleets across the U.S., according to Biggane.

The Crown Vic will no longer be in production by later this month, but the sedan was available the last few years when the city stocked up on Tahoes.

It’s worth noting that many of the pricier Tahoes were bought at the time then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, citing tight finances, allowed the number of street cops to plummet.

The city’s challenge will be to find more a fuel-efficient vehicle that handles better. Pascente had no information as to what make and model the city may choose, though popular options include the Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Caprice.

Pascente and Fleet Management Commissioner David Reynolds say the city will extend its contract with Advantage Chevrolet in Hodgkins; the three-year deal expires Oct. 31.

“It gives us flexibility,” Reynolds said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to buy more Tahoes.”

The department’s 3,535-vehicle fleet includes more than 2,000 Crown Vics and 611 Tahoes. The department also owns 56 Ford Fusion hybrids — 41 mpg in the city — but the sedans are used for administrative purposes, not chasing crooks and pulling over speeders.

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