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State police testing new cars
The Dodge Chargers, used to enforce traffic laws, get high marks

BY MARK BOWES
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Feb 26, 2007


The Virginia State Police bought 32 Dodge Chargers for about $21,000 apiece as part of a pilot program to add a new breed of car to its fleet. Trooper Tom Cashin designed the graphics.
That might be expected for a vehicle that hasn't traditionally been used as a police cruiser. But Cashin didn't foresee the car's head-turning public appeal, nor the remarks he got from one young admirer.

"Man, it would be an honor to be stopped by you," one teen recently gushed after he and a friend snapped pictures of Cashin's muscle sedan at an Interstate 64 rest stop.

Cashin laughed, telling the teen, "I don't think you'd feel the same way if you got a ticket."

Equipped with a souped-up, 5.7-liter hemi V-8 engine and customized 18-inch wheels, the Charger has made a noticeable impression during its first weeks on the road, Cashin said. Many other drivers do a double-take.

"When they see it, they stare," he said. "And you can see them turn their head almost all the way over as they're looking -- just to see the car as they drive by. I've seen people almost run off the road."

Officers say the new cars are easier to maneuver and more comfortable than other cruisers.

Virginia State Police have purchased 32 of the vehicles for about $21,000 apiece as part of a pilot program to add a new breed of car to their fleet. The cars will be used for traffic enforcement across the state.

"For some years now, Ford has been talking about getting out of the business of producing police package vehicles," state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. "So we have sought out over the past few years other police package vehicles, [such as] Chevy Impalas and Dodge Intrepids."

State police are testing the Chargers, Geller said, to "see if this a viable option for us to order for an entire class."

Cashin, who works in New Kent County, received the department's first Charger about three weeks ago. He designed the vehicle's sleek new graphics, which are being added to every Charger.

Fourteen of the vehicles are on the road in several areas of the state, including Richmond, Culpeper, Appomattox, Wytheville, Chesapeake, Salem and Fairfax.
The balance is expected to be road-ready the first week of March.

Twelve of the cars are marked, 13 are unmarked and seven are "slick tops," meaning they are marked with state police logos but have no easy-to-spot emergency light bar on top.

It's faster than the department's standard cruisers, the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor and Chevrolet Impala. The Charger can go from zero to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds.

The Dodge Charger had a reputation 30 years ago as a menacing muscle car. But police agencies across the country are now buying up these newly redesigned cars for their power, superior technology and better gas mileage.

They were even designed to look mean: "The angled, dual headlamps are pushed up and back into the far corners of the Charger's face, creating a furrowed brow and a bit of a snarl," according to a description of the vehicle on DaimlerChrysler's Web site.

They cost about $1,500 more than the standard Crown Victoria, but officials believe the cars are worth it and will save money in the long run.

For example, the Chargers run on all eight cylinders when officers need the power -- such as in a pursuit situation -- but they automatically shift to four cylinders when the car is idling, saving a tremendous amount of gas.

To optimize the overall performance of the rear-wheel drive cars, the Chargers come with an electronic stability program, which helps officers maintain directional stability in any weather condition.

"You never feel the wheel slippage," said Cashin, who drove the car in sand during a test exercise. "It keeps accelerating, it doesn't lag, it doesn't slow down and you just make it through . . . without a problem."

At 340 horsepower, the Charger has 100 more horsepower than the department's other cruisers, and presumably has more capability to catch fleeing criminals and traffic scofflaws.

The car's top speed is listed as 150 mph, but Cashin said one colleague reached 155. Cashin has accelerated up to 140 mph, but it felt like 85 or 90, he said.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol has purchased more than 200 of the Chargers. Many other state police or highway patrol departments have purchased them in bulk or are experimenting with them, including agencies in Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Oregon, Illinois and Texas.

Aside from the car's power and stylish looks, the Chargers are more comfortable and user-friendly, police say. Many believe they handle better, brake better, and take corners and maneuver better. Their doors open wider, making it easier to get in and out of, which is important when you have a gun and other accessories on your belt.

"I call it the sport sedan, where your Crown Vic is your standard 'grocery-getter,'" Cashin said.

Officer envy was almost palpable when state police displayed one of the Chargers at the Virginia State Fair.

"We were joking . . . [that] we were going to start charging the other police departments that would come by to look . . . " Geller said, "for drooling all over our car."