Fred Shelton was heading into Alabama in hot pursuit of a suspect.
“We had good sights on the suspect vehicle,” said Shelton, a captain with the Columbus Police Department.
Eventually, Shelton had to pull his police cruiser over to help another officer whose car motor had overheated and burst into flames.
“We had to stop pursuit,” Shelton recalled.
Shelton was driving a Ford Crown Victoria, the same model car he’s driven for the past 15 years as a Columbus police officer. The car with the motor on fire was a Chevrolet.
Greg Wright lived on a hill in north Columbus when he first started work with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.
“We were hit with an ice and snow storm,” Wright said.
He was working the midnight shift and went home for a dinner break. He parked at the bottom of the hill, and by the time he was ready to return to work, the car was stuck in the snow. Wright called a fellow deputy for help.
“They pulled me out. Even though there was ice and snow, they were able to get me out in the Crown Vic,” Wright said. At the time, he was driving a Dodge Plymouth.
“Those were some pretty tough old cars,” he said of the Plymouth. “But they weren’t nothing like the Crown Vic.”
Breaking up is hard to do
Chances are good that officers throughout the state have fond stories to tell of the venerable Crown Vic. It has been Mississippi law enforcement’s car of choice for decades.
But as 2011 comes to a close, so does the production of the Crown Victoria.
Ford ended production of the popular police fleet Crown Victoria when the last model rolled off the assembly line Sept. 15 at the company’s Ontario, Canada, plant, CNN Money reported. The car got 24 miles per gallon.
The Crown Victoria was in production from 1992 to 2007 for consumer models, according to automotive industry website Edmunds.com. Since then, the car was produced exclusively as a fleet vehicle.
According to an October article in Police magazine, Ford has 85 percent of the market for police vehicles. The remaining share is divided between the Chevrolet Impala and Tahoe models and the Dodge Charger.
Local agencies haven’t decided what they’ll replace the Crown Victoria with once they have to go with another vehicle. The Mississippi Highway Patrol is making the transition to the Dodge Charger.
The Crown Vic has been the primary car for Columbus police for at least a decade. The department has 30 to 40 vehicles, most of which are Crown Vics, Shelton said.
“What most municipalities are going with is the Dodge Charger; we’ll probably go with that,” he said.
“We don’t know what we’re gonna do yet,” said David Lindley, chief of police for the city of Starkville.
But he has time; Starkville is not due to purchase new vehicles for another year as part of a lease-purchase system.
The Starkville Police Department has about 60 cars in its fleet; 58 are Crown Victorias, the department’s choice for more than 20 years.
At the Lowndes County sheriff’s department, 32 of its about 45 patrol vehicles are Crown Victorias. The Crown Vic has been the standard in its fleet for at least 15 years.
Since Wright has gone into administration, he drives an Impala. He still prefers the Crown Vic. Shelton and Lindley both drive Crown Vics.
Dealers grab the last of the last
Dealers are also mourning the loss of the Crown Victoria. While local dealers don’t carry the police package, Watson Quality Ford in Jackson ordered an additional 300 police-package Crown Victorias when they got the news it no longer would be produced after 2011.
They have only 195 left. About 10 were sold in Tennessee; the rest have been purchased throughout Mississippi.
“We’re trying to hold these for our Mississippi agencies,” said Cliff Mitchell, general manager at Watson.
Each year, the dealership has sold anywhere from 100 to 600 of the Crown Victorias. Once the new year starts, Mitchell expects the remaining cars to go quickly.
“The new year’s here, and they’re getting ready to have their board meetings. They’ll go pretty fast,” he said.
Ford already stopped producing the Crown Victoria for general retail and for use as taxis and in business fleets. Dealerships knew this last halt was coming.
“This is not a surprise, and Ford has been testing a vehicle the last couple of years on the replacement,” Mitchell said.
Ford follows with new model of old platforms
Ford is introducing its Police Interceptor sedan and SUV, which Wright described as versions of the Taurus and the Explorer, for sale in 2013.
Watson is ordering demos for departments to test drive. But change won’t be easy.
“We just all tend to resist change, and us as Ford dealers, we resist it, too,” Mitchell said. “We asked Ford, ‘Why, why, why? You got a good thing going.'”
Local law enforcement is asking the same question about the vehicle they’ve counted on for so long.
“They’re very reliable vehicles, and we’ve come to depend on them,” Lindley said. “Now we’ll have to make another choice and go in a different direction. We’re like everyone else; we’ll make an adjustment.”
“It can take the punishment of working in a rural area,” Wright said of the Crown Victoria. “One minute you might be on a paved road; the next, you may be on a dirt road, and it (still) gives you a good ride.”
Several of Lowndes County’s cruisers have been tough enough to survive deer season. They end up with broken lights or panels but no major damage, Wright said.
The Starkville police keep theirs for up to nine years, and they easily log more than 100,000 miles.
“They’re a real workhorse for law enforcement,” Lindley said.
“I hate to see it go. I really do,” said Paul Greggs, a supervisor with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s a good car, and I hate to see it go.”
“You just get attached to things,” Wright said. “Just like a carpenter may have his favorite tools. A photographer may have his favorite camera. In law enforcement, our favorite automobile has been the Crown Victoria.”