That cruiser got a Hemi in it?
By Steve Huffman
The flashiest member of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office is a big fellow who’s long and lean.
He turns heads and produces a low, guttural rumble everywhere he goes.
He’s fast, agile and dependable.
And, no, he’s not that handsome young officer who recently graduated rookie school.
The Sheriff’s Office’s hottest member is a car ó the new Dodge Charger Hemi-powered V-8 that’s being phased into the patrol division.
From an initial purchase of two of the Chargers a couple of years ago, the sleek cruisers now make up 28 of the approximately 90 patrol cars in the Sheriff’s Office’s fleet.
Sheriff George Wilhelm said that if the cars continue to perform as they’ve performed thus far, the Chargers will ultimately replace all of the department’s former cruisers ó primarily Ford Crown Victorias.
“I just fell in love with it,” Wilhelm said of the Charger he got two years ago. “It’s the best-handling car I’ve ever been in, plus, it’s a pretty good recruitment tool.”
The Charger is an impressive beast, resembling very little the law-enforcement patrol cars of a few decades ago that featured a bubble light on top and little else.
The “marked” Chargers feature a light bar across the top as well as lights in the grill and back window. When they’re all activated, the vehicle looks something like the Griswolds’ house in National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation.”
They’re bright and flashy.
The cars are painted white and adorned with the snazzy red-and-blue insignias of the Sheriff’s Office
A handful of unmarked Chargers are also in the possession of the Sheriff’s Office, those vehicles painted black and resembling greatly something in which Darth Vader might have cruised the galaxy.
Wilhelm said his office was the first in the state to get the Hemi-powered Chargers though they’re now becoming popular with a number of other law-enforcement agencies across North Carolina.
For example, the N.C. Highway Patrol ordered 200 of the Chargers a year ago and placed an order for 240 of the cars this year. Several of those vehicles are assigned to Rowan County troopers.
Though the Chargers belonging to the Sheriff’s Office didn’t come from the factory with any external insignias denoting the muscle they pack under the hood, Wilhelm made sure the words “Hemi 5.7 liter” were painted on the lower front fenders.
He said it’s not unusual for his officers to ease to a halt at a stop light and have drivers in the next lane shout, “That thing got a Hemi?!” like something from a Dodge commercial.
In addition to being nice to look at and plenty fast, Wilhelm said the Chargers are fairly practical.
The cars come at a price of a hair under $21,000 while their Ford competitors sell for about $400 more. Outfitting the cars for law-enforcement work drives the cost of either a few dollars higher.
Wilhelm said a slight savings in purchase price is only the beginning of the advantages the Charger offers.
He noted that the Chargers get slightly better gas mileage than the Crown Victorias (about 25 miles per gallon on the highway vs. 23 miles per gallon), which, factoring in so many vehicles and the extent of a year’s worth of driving, comes out to a savings of several dollars.
The Charger’s 5.7-liter motor puts the Crown Victoria’s 4.6-liter offering to shame, producing 340 horsepower to the Ford’s 250.
“Lots of power, great low-end torque, very good top speed,” raved Police Fleet Manager, a magazine aimed at law enforcement, in a review of the Hemi-powered Charger.
“On the road course, the fastest two police package vehicles were Hemi-powered ó the Dodge Charger V-8 and the Dodge Magnum V-8,” concurred a report of 2007 Michigan state police patrol vehicles.
In fact, Wilhelm admitted it was the Charger’s performance potential that initially made him shy away from the vehicles. He’d been warned, he said, of the dangers officers might get themselves into by stomping a Charger’s accelerator a bit too hard.
But Wilhelm said he reconsidered his feelings after testing the cars. He said they handle better than the Crown Victorias, straightening out when officers punch the accelerators while navigating a tricky curve.
“If the officers drive ’em at the speed of the Fords, they’re much safer cars,” Wilhelm said.
There’s another big advantage to the Charger vs. the Crown Victoria said Sam Towne, a 1st lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Office who is largely responsible for the department’s motor vehicle fleet.
Towne said that when the department retires its vehicles (typically at about 125,000 miles of use unless mechanical problems dictate an earlier departure) it’s expected that the Chargers will command at auction double what the aged Crown Victorias brought.
He said it’s not unusual for a well-used Ford to bring only $800 to $1,000 at one of those auctions. A well-maintained Charger, Towne said, might fetch anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000.
Thus far, the Chargers are being assigned to officers who primarily work the interstate and the office’s drug intervention unit. That’s because, Towne said, those are the officers who typically need a vehicle that’ll get ’em somewhere in a hurry.
Towne said he looks forward to the time of year when the new Chargers are set to arrive and officers are hoping for one.
Though a team determines the officers who get a new vehicle, Towne’s say weighs heavily into the decision-making process.
“I’m a real popular guy about that time,” Towne said, laughing as he spoke. “Officers are always bringing me cookies and cakes.”
Sgt. Sharon Hovis, who works in the department’s civil division, was driving her new Charger south on U.S. 29 outside of Salisbury on a recent weekday afternoon when a Jeep passed her.
The vehicle was exceeding the speed limit by a few miles per hour, though its rate of travel wasn’t outrageous.
Hovis let the Jeep get a bit of a lead on her, then stepped down on the Charger’s accelerator.
A low rumble ensued and the Dodge sprang to life, surging forward like a race horse released from a starting gate.
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Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@ salisburypost.com.