Beep beep: Sheriff shifts gears-- 8 to 4 cylinders
Sergeant T.D. Layman is 6'6" tall, so he's the man sent out for test drives when Sheriff Chip Harding decided to take a look at trimmer vehicles that got better gas mileage than the traditional cop car, the Ford Crown Victoria.
Now the Albemarle Sheriff's department owns three Honda Accords, and Sergeant Layman slides the seat back and pronounces the Accord "roomy" and "comparable" to the larger Crown Vic.
"Everybody who's ridden mine has said they love 'em," says Layman. "A few people said they wouldn't have the same horsepower as the Crown Vic, but agree once they've ridden in it that what it lacks in horsepower, it makes up for with lighter weight."
Sheriff Harding touts the lower price– $19,000 for the Accord compared to nearly $22K for the Crown Vic– and better gas mileage. Fueleconomy.gov measures the 2009 Honda at 24 miles per gallon in combined city/county driving while the '09 Crown Vic gets just 19.
For now, says Harding, the Hondas will be used for serving civil process and administrative tasks, but not for the primary mission of the sheriff's department: transporting prisoners.
And if the experiment with smaller, more fuel-efficient cars goes well, Harding doesn't object to buying more next year for transport.
"American law enforcement has got to get with it, says Harding. "The culture in police has always been macho."
Sheriff's deputies occasionally do overtime traffic enforcement after court is closed, and they had some concerns about using the Accords for that.
"I think the Honda is going to stay up with any vehicle," says Harding, noting that he's open to other vehicles, as long as the mileage is good.
So are the these things peppy enough for a high-speed chase?
"It's got to be extreme to get into a high-speed chase," says Harding. "Unless it's a serious felony offense, my agency doesn't do law enforcement unless it's on traffic details."
The new models also have a more contemporary look in their striping and emblems, the design of which, Harding says, didn't cost extra.
"Response has been positive so far," says Harding. "People like the way they look."
The Sheriff's Office is not the only law enforcement agency getting on the gas-efficiency bandwagon. The Charlottesville Police Department has three $28,000 Ford Escape hybrid SUVs, and another six on order, according to Captain Allen Kirby.
Albemarle Police just bought two Accords that are being used by detectives.
"They get 33 miles per gallon, and they look nice," says Chief John Miller, citing a highway mileage figure. His department already has been buying more fuel-efficient cars off the lot. "They're cheaper," says Miller.
His Accords will also steer clear of high-speed chases. "Oh no," says Miller. "They're prohibited from getting into pursuit. They don't have the police package," equipment such as rollbars and cages.
And the officers using them seem to have no problem forgoing the more macho Crown Vics.
"I think that image, as far as administrative and detectives, has gone by the wayside," notes Miller, conceding, however, that he has no plans to retire his 2000 model Crown Vic.
"It's the oldest one on the force," explains Miller. "It has 86,000 miles, and I will drive it until I retire. I love that car. It's comfortable."
Updated 10:30am August 24