FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Police Department has a new, retro look — at least on wheels.
The department recently unveiled the newest members of its patrol fleet — a half dozen, sleek-looking, black-and-white, with a little gold trim and lettering thrown in — all-wheel drive Ford Explorers.
The 2012 SUVs offer a stark contrast to the department’s fleet of white, yellow and blue patrol vehicles, most of which are Ford Crown Victorias or Dodge Chargers.
It’s part of a move that Fairbanks Police Chief Laren Zager hopes will result in a fleet comprised completely of all-wheel-drive sport utility vehicles. The police department has approximately 40 patrol vehicles in its fleet.
“We’re going to as many SUVs as possible,” Zager said.
The main benefit, the chief said, is officers can store their equipment in the back of a heated vehicle instead of a cold trunk, which is a major consideration when it’s 40 degrees below zero in the winter.
“These guys carry around so much gear now — SWAT gear, canine gear, miscellaneous police gear — that a cold trunk doesn’t work well,” Zager said. “We want to go with as many SUVs as possible. That’s going to be the direction we’re heading.”
The SUVs also have more fuel efficient and emission-friendly six- cylinder engines instead of the eight cylinder motors that most of the older sedans are equipped with.
“We just don’t need V8s for this climate and for what we do,” he said, alluding to the mostly city driving that Fairbanks police do.
Ford builds the vehicles especially for police work, Zager said. The vehicles come equipped with emergency lights, and the insides have been modified for police work.
The cars cost about $40,000 apiece fully equipped and painted. The new cars, which were purchased through the local Ford dealer, Seekins Ford Lincoln Inc., have some added features the department’s other vehicles didn’t, such as emergency lights on the front, side and back of the car; a computer printer built into the center console; and hard, plastic bucket seats in the back that will secure prisoners better than the old bench seats.
But it’s the new black-and-white color scheme of the new vehicles, not the body or engine types, that likely will catch the public’s eye.
The vehicles are mostly black except for a white panel covering the two doors on both sides and the word “POLICE” in big black letters trimmed with gold. Underneath that the words “city of Fairbanks” are capitalized in smaller black letters. There also is gold lettering that says “Golden Heart City” on the front quarter panel and “Emergency call 911” on the rear quarter panel.
It was Lt. Dan Welborn who suggested the black-and-white color scheme, which was met with wide approval in an in-house survey about a year ago, Zager said.
“He said, ‘I know it’s retro, but you can never beat black and white,’” Zager said.
While he would have preferred to go without the yellow lettering and trim, Welborn said he’s been trying to get the department to go with black and white patrol vehicles for years.
“Black and white just says police to me,” Welborn said. “It’s traditional. People can relate to black and white.
“One of the things police want to have when they go to a call is a presence and I think a black and white car spells it out for us.”
Zager agreed. “Everybody identifies black and white with a police car.”
Sgt. Kurt Lockwood is one of the six officers who were assigned one of the new vehicles. Lockwood likes the new look.
“I think they look sharp,” said Lockwood, who picked up his new car on Saturday. “Every cop show I watched as a kid, the cop cars were black and white.
“I think it’s cool to go back to the kind of car I envisioned as a police car when I was a kid,” he said.
While he likes the new black-and-white look, Zager said he’s more concerned about the utilitarian value of the new SUVs.
“I’m not really driven by cosmetics,” the police chief said. “When I look at them what I see is a piece of equipment that’s matched for the job and that makes me feel good.”
Of course, since Zager doesn’t do patrol work, he won’t be driving one.
“I’m still driving my Subaru Legacy around,” he said.