Whiteville Police moving to trucks
By Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter
Several Whiteville Police officers are fashion trendsetters, but in a practical way.
The department recently took delivery of three F-150 Ford pickup trucks built for law enforcement work. The trucks have already proven to be a hit with officers here. Agencies across the country are adding law enforcement package pickups to their inventory, both due to practicality and because there’s no other choice.
“It was kind of an accident,” Emergency Services Director Hal Lowder said.
Whiteville was using Dodge Chargers, Ford Fusions and Ford SUVs, all especially built for law enforcement work. The Chargers have been plagued with mechanical issues, Lowder said, and due to their small size, the Fusions can be tough for a fully-equipped officer to enter and exit.
“By the time you put the radios and computer in there,” Lowder said, “the Fusion is just too small.”
The city already had a few SUVs that were used by shift supervisors and investigators, and began looking into shifting more of the fleet toward the specially-built SUV package. The city council approved adding three new SUVs to the police department’s rolling stock — but then a fire damaged the Ford factory that makes law enforcement sport utility vehicles.
The city was in the same position as other departments that buy vehicles on state contract. Virtually all law enforcement agencies that buy vehicles through the state found themselves on a waiting list.
“We were told it might be six months before the new vehicles could be delivered,” City Manager Darren Currie said. “It didn’t look like there was any other option, but then they told us about the trucks.”
The F-150 “police pickups” cost roughly $3,000 more than the $30,000 SUVs being purchased on state contract, Currie said, but the extra cost is outweighed by the truck’s utility and safety features.
“Our officers live in these vehicles,” Lowder said. “They’re in there for 12 hours a shift. If they have a traffic stop or other business, it’s not an easy task to get out of the cars. When someone is wearing their body armor and equipment belt, it can be a challenge to move in a hurry to get out of the cars.”
The four-door trucks have more interior room, Lowder said, which makes loading and unloading passengers easier and safer. The higher profile not only allows for a better view of traffic, but makes ingress and egress easier.
“You have to kind of step down and in with the cars,” he explained. “It’s more of an even path with the trucks.” The trucks also have a locking, weatherproof bedcover that allows officers to safely store larger evidence as well as extra equipment.
The F-150 trucks require less maintenance, Lowder said, and are reported to have a longer life span.
“When we wear these out with the police department, they can be shifted over to Public Works or other departments, and we get double service out of them,” he said.
The trucks also provide a sturdier platform that’s better able to protect officers, Currie said.
“It’s a truck,” he said. “It’s going to be more rugged than a car. Yet it can still keep up with a suspect vehicle if there is a true need for a pursuit.” Currie noted that the Whiteville Police Department has a very strict policy on avoiding high speed pursuits, but the trucks “can hold their own” if there is a need.
Lessons learned in hurricanes Matthew and Florence played a big role in the decision to buy the trucks, Currie said.
“When we were flooded, we had several cars damaged,” he explained. “The trucks can clear water that would wash a car away, or drown the engine. The officers won’t be driving through two or three feet of water, but they won’t have to worry about stalling in the middle of a flooded street.”
Lowder — who spent much of his career in law enforcement as well as fire service — said the days of the iconic, rugged Crown Victoria patrol cars are long gone.
“There was just nothing out there that could really replace the Crown Vic, and even it was never perfect,” he said.
As the Crown Victoria faded into history, and modified production cars left many agencies lacking, automobile manufacturers have started exploring ways to meet changing demands of law enforcement agencies.
“We checked out some departments that are using trucks,” Lowder said, “and they all gave it a good review.”
As fire marshal and Emergency Services director, Lowder has been using a similar, more barebones version of the same truck since his surplus police cruiser was damaged in a wreck during Hurricane Matthew.
“I like it,” he said. “It’s really a lot more practical than people might realize. Plus it’s safer and more comfortable for the officers. They’re easier to take care of. What’s not to like?”