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Sioux City police set to retire iconic patrol cars

August 12, 2018

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — For years, the sight of an oncoming Ford Crown Victoria has prompted drivers on Sioux City streets to steal a quick glance at their speedometers.

The iconic sedan, which served as the Sioux City Police Department’s prominent vehicle in the late 1990s and early 2000s, became synonymous with law enforcement here and around the country.

“That is just what people picture when you ask them what they think of as a patrol car,” Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller said. “People tap their breaks when they see that big Crown Victoria grill coming at them.”

But sightings of police “Crown Vics” have become increasingly rare in Sioux City. The department bought its last ones eight years ago, and Ford stopped manufacturing them in 2011. Sioux City then switched to purchasing Chevrolet Impalas and, more recently, Chevy and Ford sport utility vehicles.

Now, the last Crown Victorias in the department’s fleet are expected to rev their engines for the final time later this year, the Sioux City Journal reported.

Two remain, one a patrol car and one used by a K-9 officer, both of which are set for retirement in the coming months. They will then go to auction, the last local remnants of their era.

“It’ll be a little sad to see them go because they are kind of an icon,” said Officer Dan Gillon, the primary driver of the final Crown Victoria patrol car. “But we’ve seen these ends before.”

When Gillon joined the force in 1994, the predominant vehicle was the Chevrolet Caprice. The department started buying Crown Victorias later in the 1990s, then switched to Chevrolet Impalas in the mid-2000s.

The city stopped buying Impalas after 2015 and began switching to SUVs. It purchased Chevrolet Tahoes in 2016 and has bought Ford Explorers the past two years. A new Explorer will replace the final Crown Victoria when it is retired.

Gillon, who has been driving the current car for between two and three years, said he respects the history but won’t necessarily be sad to see it go.

“It’s getting old and it’s starting to get rusty,” Gillon said. “You can’t get all the dirt off of it. The inside’s a bit raggedy now.”

Auto mechanic John Koebel, who has worked in the city’s police garage for 26 years, said patrol cars typically survive three to four years on the road and are removed after they rack up about 90,000 miles. The current Crown Victorias have lasted a few years longer.

Crown Victorias were the dominant cars on the market for several years and were known for their size, dependability and interchangeability of parts from year to year, Koebel said.

“The bigger guys, they needed bigger cars, and that was the car to have,” Koebel said. “They’ve been around a long time, and there were times when there wasn’t much else available.”

One drawback, Koebel said, has been the vehicle’s rear-wheel drive. During the brutal winters of Sioux City, the department used to put chains on the wheels to help it maneuver in the snow and ice. But a change in positioning of the shock absorbers in newer models made it impossible to even fit a chain around the wheels.

“If you look at the one we have, it has sandbags in the back because it needs some weight in the back ... just to get around at all in the winter time,” Koebel said. “It’s a challenge.”

Koebel said during major snows, officers typically forego the Crown Victoria for an SUV. Gillon agreed navigating wintry roads in the car is a challenge.

“If you’re cautious and you’re careful, you can do it, but it takes a little bit more expertise,” he said.

Mueller said the department’s switch to four-wheel-drive SUVs helps police navigate these conditions more easily.

“Utility interceptors are far superior as far as their ability to get around,” he said. “When you have weather like we have in the Midwest, they make so much more sense than having a sedan with front- or rear-wheel drive.”

As he drives the remaining “Crown Vic” around city streets, Gillon said he’ll get remarks about the age of the car, and a bit of nostalgia from some people he meets.

But at the end of the day, he said, it’s just another tool that officers use. One that, like the others, will give way to a more modern one.

“For me, as long as it gets me from point A to point B, you know, and it’s got air conditioning for the summer, heat for the winter, power windows — I’m a happy camper,” he said.


Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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