Sometime in the last few weeks, I realized I was noticing police cars. In the three years since I last played Grand Theft Auto and moved to Hyde Park, this has happened only rarely. The reason I’m more alert now, of course, is that the University of Chicago Police Department now owns seven highly noticeable Dodge Chargers. They’re 2010 models, painted black and white, and their sides read POLICE in angular maroon letters that remind me of the Star Wars logo.
Until recently, Ford Crown Victorias were perhaps the quintessential American police vehicle, big rear-wheel drive, body-on-frame sedans that can take a beating. I have fond memories of pointing out as undercover cops the unmarked ones I’d see heading in and out of police headquarters in my hometown. White ones make up the bulk of the UCPD’s fleet, but that’s changing. Since 2006, Chrysler has offered a police version of the Dodge Charger, another body-on-frame rear-wheel drive. Also in service with the California Highway Patrol and NYPD, the silhouette is decidedly more aggressive than the Crown Vic’s, though something about it recalls the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe.
According to UCPD Chief Marlon Lynch, the Chargers are part of a regular replacement of older and higher-mileage vehicles. He didn’t specify how many, but more will join the force over the next few years. In Michigan State Police testing, they outran, outbraked, and used less fuel than new Ford models. But at the end of the day, Lynch explained, “One of our goals is to increase our presence and visibility. As much as it can, I think this paint scheme assists us with this goal.”