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Police phasing out Crown Vic cruisers; what comes next?

After nearly 20 years on the streets of Charlotte, the city is beginning to phase out its fleet of Crown Victoria police cruisers.

After this year, Ford will stop making the Crown Victorias with a rugged police interceptor package. Ford's police car will be replaced with a new model that doesn't appear to be as palatable to officers and law-enforcement agencies here.

Police and city leaders haven't decided which car will replace the Crown Victoria, but some favor the Dodge Charger, a beefy vehicle with a Hemi V6 engine that is favored by the N.C. Highway Patrol.

Officer C.P. Greene, who works on the Providence Division's traffic unit, likes a lot about the car - its smooth acceleration, "intimidating" looks and room to stretch out his 6-foot-4 frame.

"All I do is drive for 10 hours every day," he said. The center console filled with police equipment is also pushed a bit forward, giving him more room.

The Police Department uses all types of vehicles - the Chevy Tahoe for off-road, ATVs to patrol the areas between apartment buildings on the east side, even Segways, which glide along the sidewalks uptown - but the more than 600 Crown Victorias are the vehicles used most.

CMPD only buys cruisers from a select group of cars manufactured as police vehicles, usually with a rugged build and more powerful engines.

Police car base models cost about the same - around $23,000, police say. It costs another $16,000 to put equipment into the cars, though lights, radios, and police-issued laptops are usually transferred from decommissioned vehicles.

Last month, the City Council approved $5.5 million for new police vehicles, including 50 of the new Chargers.

Council members and police officers said they felt the Chevrolet Impalas made with the police package are too small. The new Ford Police Interceptor, which will be built on a Taurus frame and becomes available next year, will be about the same size as the Chevrolets.

The department is buying about 150 marked cars, mostly Crown Victorias, while they can still be purchased because police mechanics still have many spare parts for the car. But a third of the new cars will be Dodge Chargers, nearly quadrupling the number of Chargers in the fleet.

City Councilman Andy Dulin, who was vocal in his support of the Charger at an October city council meeting, told the Observer he thought it was "a sexy cop car." If the Charger is as safe and durable as the alternatives, he said, the city should go for it.

Deputy Chief Katrina Graue, who evaluates the vehicle for the department, said CMPD has a wait-and-see approach, using several vehicles from different manufacturers to see what works best. "It's not all about being cool," Graue said. "It has to fit our needs."