Patrol car makeover Bold new lettering mark of Charleston’s Ford Interceptors

Charleston Police Department new police cars that will replace the old cars.( Leroy Burnell/ )

One word stands out above all others on the city of Charleston’s newest patrol cars: Police.

After many months of study, the city police department has unveiled its new graphics package, the identifying look for its scores of vehicles but most specifically the cars that ride the streets on a regular basis — from patrol cars to traffic enforcement.

Going away is the historically themed city seal with a tall ship, painted on vehicles from sport utilities to trucks and most noticeably on the Ford Crown Victorias that for decades have been the mainstay in Charleston and many police departments nationwide.

In its place is a vinyl wrap. An oversized “police” inscription is in all capital letters, blue with dark shading, on the door panels. A solid blue stripe extends both ways from the title, crossing the car’s two-toned black and white exterior. Written below the police markings in smaller block letters is “Charleston,” and there’s a gray police badge logo on the side.

A city-appointed group has been studying what to do about the national phaseout of the Crown Victoria police cars and how to style the new cars.

Their choice was almost unanimous to stay with the vehicles’ familiar black and white color scheme, said Scott Newsome, the city’s director of fleet operations.

The new emblem, meanwhile, was designed so that neighborhood residents would immediately identify the cars as patrol vehicles. The graphics package is reflective so it’s more visible at night. “It’s just a more modern look,” he said.

The city switched over the first cars to the new graphics package last week.

They appear on the city’s chief replacement for the Crown Victoria. The new shorter wheelbase car is a special purpose police vehicle known as the Ford Interceptor. Powered by a V-6 engine, the police car is modeled after the popular Taurus sedan, said Newsome, the only South Carolina representative on a 24-member Ford Motor police advisory board.

“It’s a remarkable car to drive,” said Newsome, who test drove the Interceptor in a training event in Las Vegas. The 2012 model year car has more horsepower, 285, than the current Crown Victorias in the Charleston fleet, which are a few years old or more.

Highway patrols and other departments involved in fast pursuits use turbo-charged Interceptors that generate 365 horsepower, he said.

Also, the Interceptor has been rear-crash tested to 75 mph, Newsome said. Police specific features of the Interceptor include rear doors that open wider to make it easy to slide people under arrest in and out, extra roomy trunks and a beefier electrical system to handle the additional lights and sirens.

After the badging is installed, the city fits the cars with patrol computer terminals and other equipment used on the road.

The city intends to gradually replace its fleet with the newly badged cars, ordering new model Interceptors as the older Crown Victorias wear out. The cars receive an undercoating that costs $180 per vehicle. The replacement schedule is 35 to 40 marked cars and 10-15 unmarked cars per year, Newsome said.

The police department has about 250 marked cars and 150 unmarked vehicles, he said.

About 70 percent of Charleston’s law enforcement vehicles are the ubiquitous V-8 Fords. Other models that also will be getting the new lettering are patrol versions of the Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Caprice and Ford Mustang.

Lighten Up, a Spartanburg company, installs the new wrap on the cars and ships them on to Charleston.

“It’s been very well received,” said Joe Harvill, a patrolman who was part of the study group made up of officers, supervisors and cops on the street. “The biggest change is the graphics package,” he said.

The Crown Victoria has been so beloved because of its rugged build, quick 0-60 mph pickup and spacious cabin.

The ride is important since patrolmen are on 10-hour shifts with much of the time spent in the car, although beat cops do get out of their cars for “walks and talks” in the neighborhoods they patrol, police spokesman Charles Francis said.

According to Harvill, the Interceptor rides comfortably and handles well as a result of new technology such as traction control. “The turning radius is very precise,” he said.