The Kannapolis Police Department is upgrading.
Capt. Chuck Adams confirmed this week that the department has replaced 11 of the older cars on the department's fleet with new cars - and a new paint scheme - late in the budget year. Ten of the 11 cars will be marked police cruisers and one will be unmarked.
Adams said the new scheme - silver paint with the traditional Kannapolis Police Department decals - serves dual purposes. In addition to being a little harder to see at night, the cars don't show dirt and grime as much and look more professional than the white cars the department is currently operating.
But that isn't the biggest draw of the new cars.
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Instead of the traditional police cruiser backseat with plush coverings and a full cage that allows prisoners to lay down, the new cars have a more uncomfortable molded plastic backseat and half cage.
Officer Lemar Harper has been with the department for two years and has been assigned one of the new cars. He's been on the road with the new car for one month, and though he's not noticed an increase in productivity, he likes how the new color scheme makes the car harder to spot at night. His favorite feature is the half cage.
"The prisoner is not able to lie down in the seat," said Harper.
While it doesn't seem like a big problem to citizens, if a prisoner is drunk, or has a heart condition, and lays down in the backseat with his hands cuffed behind his back, he could suffer what police officers call positional asphyxiation.
The condition occurs when a person's position prevents them from breathing adequately and they suffocate. If a prisoner is passed out in the backseat of a cruiser, the officer can't monitor them to prevent the condition. With the new half cages, it's not an issue.
In addition, prisoners won't be able to lay across the back seat of cruisers and kick doors and windows, possibly vandalizing the cars, Adams said.
"If they are sitting straight up, the officer can view them," he said. Adams said he wondered how the new cars would look when he heard the department would be transitioning to gray cars.
"We saw the first one striped and were blown away," said Adams, referring to the blue Kannapolis Police decals added to the cars.
Rather than totally replace everything in the cars, Adams said the department saved money by stripping the old cars down and moving all the police equipment to the new cars. That has taken time. The first car rolled through the streets of Kannapolis on July 23, and Adams said the last car to go out will probably be this week.
"It just takes awhile to get all that equipment switched over," he said.
The old cars will be stripped down and sold at the city's surplus auctions.