PITTSFIELD -- City police are making a luminous design statement in a new black cruiser that represents a switch from the traditional Ford "Crown Vic" to a sleeker, all-wheel-drive model based on the Taurus.
Police Chief Michael J. Wynn said the vehicle represents an upgrade in many ways from the rear-wheel-drive Crown Victoria models, which have appeared in countless police shows on TV over many years and as taxis in New York City and elsewhere.
In addition, he said, the large reflective white graphics, featuring "POLICE" in block letters, were designed specifically for the vehicles by two officers -- Sgt. Michael Maddalena and Officer Matt Kirchner -- who labored for several months on both design and cruiser functionality.
"We worked on it a solid six months," Kirchner said, adding, "When the chief said we need a new design, he kind of gave us free reign."
Wynn smiled and said he didn't think Kirchner and Maddalena actually believed their ideas would be accepted, but that also served to make them extremely thorough -- seeking input from around the department about features the new cruiser should have.
The department also has a new model SUV, based on the Ford Explorer, which has the same solid black paint and bold white lettering.
One of the most popular features, they said, was all-wheel-drive. During a snowstorm, "this thing can go places the [real-wheel-drive] Crown Vics could never go," Kirchner said.
In addition, both the cruiser and SUV models use the same size all-season tires, eliminating the need to store snow tires for the cruisers to use during winter.
That factor, plus "a commonality of parts" for the two department vehicle types, "greatly diminishes our inventory," Wynn said.
That is an even greater advantage as the department is operating in an aging facility on Allen Street, which is cramped and which the city hopes to replace with a new building.
Internally, operation of the new vehicles puts much less of a strain on the electrical systems because LED lighting is used in the light bar, the cruiser spotlight and in side flashing devices that are mounted on the front bumper extension and along the side of the vehicles.
Cruisers "are really ramped up," Wynn said, and require much from a vehicle's alternator as they are driven 24 hours per day by three officer shifts. The LED lighting "drastically reduces" the strain, he said.
Kirchner said the side flashing lights, as well as the reflective lettering, are more quickly visible and recognizable, especially when a cruiser is speeding into an intersection with lights flashing.
Seeing one of the department's older Crown Victorias, which are painted a pale blue with far less striking lettering, drives home the difference in visibility when they are side by side with the new vehicles.
Inside the cruisers, a unibody design has been reinforced with steel and has the same crash rating as the old vehicles. They also have a V6 engine rather than a V8, but have comparable power. They also get better gas mileage and come with a longer, 100,000-mile warranty.
The new cruisers cost about $79,000, painted, marked and fitted with safety equipment, lights, siren, radio, Wynn said.
Other features include a new onboard computer with a mounted flat screen and separate mounted keyboard, and two features that should find favor with officers when they transport prisoners.
The rear seat is a hard plastic bench that Kirchner said is easy to clean of the type of messes that anyone who has seen TV shows like "Cops" can probably visualize. And rather than a grate separating officers in the front from unruly prisoners, there is a solid Plexiglas partition.
The PPD vehicle fleet is about 20 vehicles, the officers said, and there are 10 to 11 patrol vehicles, six of which are patrolling the city at any given time. In three years or less, "they are basically worn out," Kirchner said.
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