Tight budgets have prohibited the St. Cloud Police Department from buying new squad cars for the past several years.
In the time since the department bought its last Ford Crown Victorias, the company that makes the familiar four-door sedan announced the model is going the way of the dinosaur.
That means the squad cars that will patrol St. Cloud streets in the coming years will look quite different. And in the next few months the department is testing its newest squad car with the goal of settling on the long-term replacement for the Crown Victorias.
Recently hitting the streets was a Ford Police Interceptor sport utility vehicle that also shows off the new logos that will adorn the city's squads. The small SUV has several new technological features also being tested, including digital video and brighter lights to improve safety.
The department also will test a Taurus sedan before deciding how to replace the 22 Crown Victorias that make up its fleet of marked squad cars.
St. Cloud police this year will get five more vehicles to begin a phased replacement of the Crown Victorias. With the exception of the crossover SUV that just debuted, the department hasn't bought any new squads without outside financial assistance since at least 2009.
They have three vehicles with more than 120,000 miles on them that should be, and typically would have been, replaced, said Sgt. Thomas Gjemse, who is in charge of special projects for the department. But the department continues to use them until they incur a repair bill of more than a few thousand dollars.
"We found that when you get to that 100,000-120,000 miles that's when you really start kicking in the maintenance costs," Gjemse said. "Things start going out -- brakes, transmission, things where you're really better off replacing the vehicle."
They used to replace the fleet in thirds on a rotating basis. When the moratorium on buying new vehicles went into effect, they decided to run the vehicles until they needed an expensive repair and then add another vehicle to the fleet rather than rotating them out when the warranties were up.
Gjemse and Janelle Thompson, the department's support and building supervisor, have been assessing what officers need and what works. And they've equipped the new all-wheel drive crossover with some of the newest and best technology for officers to test.
Key among the features is a digital video recording system they've had in their building for years but haven't been able to purchase to install in their squad cars. It comes with three cameras -- one that captures what happens in front of the car, one for the activity behind the squad and the third for the rear-seat compartment.
There are a number of ways to activate the recorder, and when activated it already has recorded the two minutes of what happened before being activated.
The footage is automatically downloaded to department servers when the vehicle enters the police department parking garage. That function will replace the VHS tapes and recording system the department currently uses.
"The officers don't have to do anything as far as transferring videos," Gjemse said. "There are no tapes. All they have to do is on the front end."
And although the video is shot in high definition, it can be saved in low definition to save server space.
The crossover SUV costs slightly more than the Crown Victorias but they get better gas mileage, said Sartell Police Chief Jim Hughes, whose department has one of the crossovers and will be getting two more in the next several days. He's planning to go primarily with the crossovers to replace his city's six marked Crown Victorias.
Stearns County has two of the crossovers, and they are being used for its two bloodhound teams, Sheriff John Sanner said. About 16 of the county's 57 marked squads have been changed over to the sedan Interceptors, he said.
He chose those over the crossovers because of a perception that the sedan gets better gas mileage than an SUV.