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At first glance, it looks as if Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Caleb Graffam has borrowed the keys to one of James Bond’s high-tech speedsters.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, Graffam is quick to point out the digital radar display on his car’s dashboard, the miniature camera system bolted to the inside headliner and the mobile data terminal anchored securely to his right.
Add to that list reinforced rear windows, GPS units and a flashy new paint job, and it may sound like his car is ready for the Daytona 500.
But in reality, Graffam and several other deputies are simply enjoying the addition of 11 new patrol cars at the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.
Purchased near the end of the summer using funds from the county’s capital improvement budget, the new 2012 Dodge Chargers will help update the office’s aging fleet.
“It’s real nice,” Graffam said. “It’s the first new car I’ve had since I’ve been out here. It’s got a lot of get up and go.”
Graffam, who’s served the sheriff’s office for three years, said the new cars have definitely been grabbing attention from county residents.
As a member of the Community Action Team, Graffam is often sent on various assignments throughout the county, from hunting for wanted criminals to addressing car break-ins. But no matter where he goes, he receives compliments on the new car.
“People want to come up and look at it all the time,” he said. “They think it looks professional, sleek and more aggressive.”
Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Matt Shaw agrees with that assessment.
“I don’t think there’s any question about how nice they look. They are a very clean-looking, very professional-looking, sharp-looking vehicle,” Shaw said.
But it wasn’t just looks that necessitated the change in cars, he said.
“Ford no longer makes Crown Victorias, so it forced a change in type of cars every law enforcement agency buys,” Shaw said. “We had to go looking for another option and this is what we landed on.”
The Ford Crown Victoria has been the patrol car of choice by many law enforcement agencies throughout the country for so long that many motorists automatically think a law officer is behind the steering wheel on seeing one. However, Ford quit making the cars in 2011.
Shaw said other options his office considered included the Chevy Cruiser, Chevy Tahoe and Ford Interceptor, though the Charger eventually won out.
“We drove all the options and considered the pricing and budget and that’s the choice we came up with,” Shaw said.
Shaw said the Charger became an attractive choice because of the cost.
“We saved several thousand dollars per car. If we had gone with another option, we couldn’t have gotten the number of cars we did,” he said.
The purchase price for the basic Charger was $23,000, which was between $2,000 and $5,000 less than some of their other options.
For several of their new patrol cars, the cost grew to $38,000, once they were fully outfitted with equipment and accessories, such as cameras, radars, lights, stripes, radios and cages.
“Traditionally we would purchase a car and go to a business where lights, sirens, stripes and equipment were all done and installed there,” he said. “We were able to figure out a way to purchase all the equipment for the cars wholesale and then have it installed at different places and save a pretty good amount (of money) per car.”
Savings were also made by not completely outfitting each car.
“The cameras themselves are $4,800 each. They are top of the line, but we can’t afford to put them in every car. About half of the new cars have them,” Shaw said.
Also helping to reduce the financial strain on the sheriff’s office is the impressive fuel economy of each new patrol car, which Shaw said is between 24 and 26 miles per gallon. With rising gas prices, Shaw said this should help make the most out of their fuel budget, which is $295,000 for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
“They are a lot more fuel-efficient than the Crown Vics,” he said. “The fuel bill has been a little bit out of our control over the last couple years and a higher fuel economy will absolutely help us from a budgeting standpoint.”
There are several new features on the patrol cars, though Shaw said one of the most interesting features are durable window barriers bolted to the back side windows.
“Every year, about four, five, six times, we have a bad guy kick out the back window,” he said. “It happens all the time, so we decided to get these things.”
He said it can cost upwards of $2,400 to fix a busted-out window and bent door from these types of incidents. In comparison, it only costs a couple hundred dollars to fix the window barrier.
In the back of the car, there is a cage to protect officers from being assaulted or spit on, as well as a plastic insert that replaces the factory-installed seats.
“They are easier to clean up,” he said. “Also, prisoners have a tendency to hide things in the seats, such as contraband that didn’t get found in the initial search. It’s a whole lot harder to hide things in a one-piece plastic seat.”
The cars are also each equipped with push bumpers, also called brush guards or “cattle catchers,” which were installed to help prevent damage if a car strikes a deer.
“With them, if you hit a deer, it reduces the amount of damage by thousands of dollars,” Shaw said.
Shaw is also excited about the technological capabilities included in the cars. This includes mobile data terminals, which allow deputies to run tags and file reports from the field, as well as global-positioning systems.
“If we have an officer go missing, the GPS can help,” he said. “We recently had an officer who was chasing someone on foot and we couldn’t understand him over the radio. So we pulled him up on GPS and found him.”
With all these changes, Shaw admits there’s been a bit of a learning curve.
“It’s different when you’ve been doing the same thing for years, but I like it,” he said.
Lifting up his sunglasses to get another look at the car, Shaw nods his head and smiles.
“It’s sharp,” Shaw said. “That is a nice looking car.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416