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Why Do Some Police Departments Use the Prius (and Other Weird Cars)?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2016

Hello, readers of Oversteer, and welcome to Ask Doug, where you send me letters -- such as Q -- and I reply to them with tremendously interesting, thought-provoking points that you disagree with in the comments.

If you'd like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just send me an email at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, or send me a message on my Facebook page. I can't promise I'll reply to your message here on the site, but I can promise that I will scoff at you if you purchased an original Audi Allroad and can't figure out why it's leaning to one side like a poorly planted beach umbrella.

Anyway, this week's question comes to us from a reader in the District of Columbia, the finest city anywhere on earth. I've named him Joshy. Joshy writes:

Hi Doug,

I've got a question!

Like some car geeks, I happen to be particularly interested in cop cars. I love reading about them, I love looking at them, I love the lights, the "cop motor, cop suspension" stuff, everything.

I know that Ford sells the Police Interceptor Taurus and Explorer now. Chevy has its Caprice PPV and the Tahoe, Dodge has the Charger and Durango, etc., etc. available on the fleet websites. Most of the time, you see these in your rearview when you're getting pulled over for doing 15 miles per hour over the speed limit on the way to work.

But I've noticed that there are some strange cop cars out there. New York, for example, has Ford Fusions and Toyota Priuses. My University has Ford Escapes! They have the lights, the sirens, the bars over the windows...

So, what's the deal? Toyota doesn't have a cop-car program. You can't buy Cop Fusions on Ford's Fleet website. I can't find anywhere on the Internet an explanation of how a Ford Fusion, a Toyota Prius or whatever becomes a cop car. Maybe you can tell me? Also, can you tell me why anyone would want to have a hybrid or a front-wheel-drive crossover instead of a V8 Charger?

From D.C. with love,

Joshy

For those of you who do not want to read Joshy's question -- perhaps because I've named him Joshy, or maybe because he starts his question with the phrase, "I have a question!" -- allow me to sum it up. Joshy is wondering how certain police departments with certain weird cars, like the Toyota Prius, purchase them. Joshy is also wondering why certain police department with certain weird cars, like the Toyota Prius, purchase them.

These are good questions, Joshy, and I'll address the second one first: politics.

Personally, I've never seen a Toyota Prius police car in a place like Texas. In Texas, people drive out to the country and discharge weapons into the air, and in that kind of environment, a Toyota Prius wouldn't get any respect.

This isn't how it works in New York City. In New York City, people become offended at the slightest thing. For example, if you were walking down the street and accidentally stepped on a tiny insect, an insect so small it couldn't be seen by the naked eye, you would quickly find yourself facing loud protests from the People for the Invisible Insects Alliance, who would likely call you a killer and ask you to leave this earth, carefully defined by New Yorkers as "New York City, except for Staten Island." That's why, in New York City, everyone is very careful not to offend anyone else.

So what happens is this: The police department says they want fast, high-performance, expensive cars for pursuits, and the city asks, "Are there any solar-powered cars?" The compromise is that some officers have to drive around in Priuses. Admittedly, this isn't a huge deal, because it's not like there are any police chases in New York City. The only chases in New York City occur between rats chasing after the same tender morsel of discarded pizza crust.

Of course, this doesn't just apply to New York City. Why does your school, George Washington University, use Ford Escapes? Because they want a little ground clearance and a little space in the back, and they don't want a gigantic Ford Crown Victoria in Washington, D.C., where the single largest parking spot is the size of a highlighter and was taken 4 years ago by a cement mixer that doubles as a studio apartment for hipsters and rents for $1,925 a month plus utilities.

Or maybe they just want to stand out from the 746 other police forces in D.C., including the Capitol Police, the National Park Police, the Treasury Police, the Mint Police, the Dinosaur Museum Police, the Flower Delivery Police, the Prescription Glasses Police and the Mattress Safety Tag Police.

And now, we get to Joshy's other issue: How do police departments go about purchasing these weird cars? After all, it's not like Toyota has a Prius fleet program designed for police departments in cities where the residents will stage a sit-in if the police cars harm the baby raccoon fish. Here's the answer: They buy them retail.

This may surprise you, but it's true. If police agencies can't get a good fleet deal going, they just buy the police cars retail. Some agencies do this anyway just to support a local business, or because the local Chevy dealer offered them a deal similar to the manufacturer's, or because they aren't large enough to warrant a huge group buy. On my giant Aston Martin road trip, I saw a Chevy Silverado 2500HD Crew Cab being used by some sheriff in rural Montana. I guarantee he didn't buy 20 of those for his whole troop.

And so, Joshy, I believe I've answered your police-related questions for the day. Now, go off into D.C., and for God's sake, be careful of the Flower Delivery Police.

MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
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Used 2016 Toyota Prius Two
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Certified 2016 Toyota Prius Two
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Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
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Certified 2016 Toyota Prius Two
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Why Do Some Police Departments Use the Prius (and Other Weird Cars)? - Autotrader