The Chevrolet Tahoe was to have been Chicago’s police car of the future, but the city appears to be putting the brakes on plans to replace the aging fleet of Ford Crown Victoria squads with the bulky sport-utility vehicle.
In 2008, the Daley administration inked a three-year contract with a Hodgkins auto dealer to provide the Chicago Police Department with up to 2,000 of the SUVs – with a goal of supplanting its existing fleet of aging “Crown Vics,” a popular (and less expensive) sedan that is stopping production this month.
But as of August, the city had just 611 Tahoes in its patrol armada, and appears to be rethinking a strategy that was backed by former police Supt. Jody Weis, the Better Government Association has learned.
After purchasing 341 Tahoes in 2010, the city bought only 11 this year and has no immediate plans to add more, according to Anthony Pascente, spokesman for the city’s Department of Fleet Management.
Pascente said via email that the city hasn’t ruled out buying more Tahoes down the road, but for now the buying spree is over.
So what made the city slam the brakes?
The decision was influenced, in part, by the police department’s operational needs and also the cost, said Pascente. At a time when gas prices are astronomical and the city faces a gut-wrenching budget deficit, the Tahoe gets a paltry 11 miles per gallon on E85, a gasoline-ethanol blended fuel that’s generally considered better for the environment, and only 15 mpg on traditional gas.
Also, it’s no secret that some beat cops aren’t huge fans of the Tahoe.
No patrol officers have formally complained about the boxy SUV to the department, according to Lt. Maureen Biggane, of Police News Affairs. But an executive with the city’s police union said the two-wheel-drive Tahoe, even though it boasts extra legroom, is disliked by many officers because it performs so poorly on snow and ice-covered streets.
“I don’t see them as being the ultimate pursuit vehicle,” says Bill Dougherty, first vice-president of Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police. “They didn’t handle well in winter, and they’re terrible trying to go down side streets.”
Patrol officers who spoke to the BGA echoed Dougherty’s assessment; they like the spacious cabin and higher view of the street but prefer a vehicle that doesn’t skid out on slick roads.
Pascente said one reason the city tapped the Tahoe was because of its performance in an annual test of police vehicles, administered by the Michigan State Police. Indeed, the Tahoe earned high marks in the 2011 test that measures qualities such as top speed, braking distance and ergonomics.
The Tahoe was also by no means the most fuel-efficient. Its gas mileage in city driving was comparable to the Crown Victoria’s 14 mpg but it fared worse than the Dodge Charger 3.6-liter, which gets 19 mpg on gas, and the 3.9-liter Chevrolet Impala, which got 17 mpg on gas and 12 on E85, according to the Michigan test. Whether it was fueled with gas or E85, the Caprice got 14 mpg in city driving.
So was the Tahoe a bad choice?
It’s more expensive than the Crown Vic, $31,926 versus $28,506, according to Pascente. And also more costly to maintain: The Tahoe’s average annual upkeep (at least in the short run) is $260 more than the Crown Vic police sedan, which debuted in 1983 and is a fixture in police fleets across the U.S., according to Biggane. Granted, the Crown Vic will no longer be in production by later this month, but the sedan was available the last few years when the city stocked up on Tahoes.
(It’s worth noting that many of the pricier Tahoes were bought at the same time then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, citing tight finances, allowed the number of street cops to plummet.)
Going forward the city’s challenge will be to find a better handling, more fuel-efficient vehicle. Pascente had no information as to what make and model the city may choose, though popular options include the Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Caprice.
Even though it may go in a different direction, Pascente and Fleet Management Commissioner David Reynolds say the city will extend its contract with Hodgkins-based Advantage Chevrolet; the three-year deal expires Oct. 31.
“It gives us flexibility,” Reynolds said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to buy more Tahoes.”
The department’s 3,535-vehicle fleet includes more than 2,000 Crown Vics and 611 Tahoes.
The department also owns 56 Ford Fusion hybrids — the car gets an admirable 41 mpg in the city — but the sedans are used for administrative purposes, not chasing crooks and pulling over speeders.
This story was written and reported by Andrew Schroedter, a BGA investigator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9035.