Montgomery County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Mark Hollandsworth has a new patrol vehicle, and it’s not yet another Crown Victoria. For most of his 13-year law enforcement career, Hollandsworth’s ride has been one or another of the Crown Victoria-based Police Interceptors, a car widely recognized as a stereotypical patrol car. But Ford stopped making Crown Victorias in 2011. They still make police cars, though, including Hollandsworth’s new vehicle: a Ford Police Interceptor Sport Utility Vehicle.
This SUV – one of four the Sheriff’s Department acquired early this year – has an Explorer body on a Taurus frame. Ford specially designed and built it for the particular conditions of police work – including pursuit driving. It is equipped with an array of gear to permit Hollandsworth to perform all the functions of his patrol work.
The vehicle has a heavy duty suspension system with mounts and reinforcements unique to Police Interceptors. It also has brakes specifically designed to maximize cooling and withstand high temperatures – to endure conditions sometimes encountered in police use, for example, the need to travel at high speeds and then suddenly stop safely and quickly.
Likewise, the engine and transmission are factory-tuned to accommodate police maneuvers. The vehicle also has an undercarriage plate – think of those movie chase scenes where a police car bottoms out after flying over a hill. The all-wheel-drive vehicle has a 3.7 liter V6 engine. With 304 hp, it actually has more power than the old V8 Crown Vics while also being more fuel efficient.
Unlike Explorers, Hollandsworth’s SUV doesn’t have third-row seating – and the back seat is enclosed in a secure cage. The rear doors have hidden locks, controlled from the front seat. They also have hinges which permit wider opening than the street version of the Explorer – the better to allow a police officer to direct persons in custody into the caged back seat.
“It’s a little easier to buckle people into the back seat,” Hollandsworth says. Since the seat rides higher than the back seat of a sedan, he doesn’t have to bend as much to buckle in someone.
In the far back of the SUV are supplies – conventional flares, a tactical vest, a riot helmet, a fire extinguisher, a fingerprint kit and LED turbo flares. Those last ones are good for situations where officers need flares for an extended period of time, such as at field checks.
The front of the SUV truly is a mobile office. The center console between the two seats has a series of switches which control the car’s lights, sirens and radio. There’s also a platform for Hollandsworth’s mobile data terminal (MDT). It is through his MDT (a laptop) that Hollandsworth receives notifications from dispatch. “We have everything in here we need from the start of day to end of day,” he says confidently. He can file reports remotely from the computer. As a supervisor of eight officers during each shift, he can also review their reports. To run all of the equipment, the car has a 220-amp alternator.
Computer communications take place over Verizon wireless. Radio communication is still a vital part of Hollandsworth’s job, too. As part of his equipment, he wears portable receivers which communicate with police dispatch. Signals are transmitted through two radio towers.
The SUV is also the first car that Hollandsworth has used that has radio repeaters. The repeaters are like miniature transmission centers which help relay messages to and from Hollandsworth whenever he’s in a place where it’s harder to connect with the towers. The radio and many of the other modifications to the SUV were installed by Blacksburg’s Professional Communications.
The car has permanent tags so the Sheriff’s office doesn’t get renewal notices from the DMV. Like other cars on the road, though, it is required to be inspected, so there is an inspection sticker on the windshield. The Sheriff Department has two full-time mechanics who perform inspections and help maintain its fleet of vehicles.
Hollandsworth really likes the SUV’s handling. “Since it’s built on a car chassis, it rides lower to the ground. Plus the turning radius is a lot better. No more four-point turns like with the Crown Vics.”
When asked what about the SUV he’d like to have in his personal vehicle, Hollandsworth says: “Occasionally it would be nice to have a blue light. I’ve seen people pass a string of cars on a double yellow line.” Even though he was off-duty when this happened, he was still guarding the public safety. He took down the car’s information and took a visual record of the driver. When he found the driver was the owner of the car, he was able to attain a conviction for aggressive driving. As if there weren’t already sufficient reasons to drive properly even when you don’t see a Sheriff’s car – or SUV – on the road with you.
By Karl H. Kazaks
Photos by Laura’s Focus Photography