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SUV patrol gets tough
Brandon substation deputies testing Dodge Durango

by David Fleet

January 22, 2014

Brandon Twp.- Snowy, rough rural roads can be a challenging workplace for law enforcement.

While difficult to endure, the arctic conditions provide automobile manufacturers an opportunity to test their products.

Brandon and Commerce townships were selected last year to test a 2014 Dodge Durango SUV patrol vehicle for one year. The on-the-road evaluation is necessary to gather information regarding the rigors of police driving in two environments.

"Roads in Brandon and northern Oakland County include many rough gravel roads. It's more rural patrols than Commerce, which is more suburban driving," said Captain Douglas Molinar, who heads the patrol services division of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office. "It's really a good test."

The 2014 Durango Special Service Vehicle now used by the Oakland County Sheriff is not a family car; rather, equipped with heavy-duty brakes, battery, alternator, water pump and engine oil cooler. Fleet use includes the opposite of pursuit long periods of idling to keep the communications gear powered up and, in foul weather, providing the officer a temperature-controlled environment, according to Dodge. The Durango features four-wheel drive and a 5.7L HEMI V-8 engine, producing 360 horse power with about 23 miles per gallon.

The Chrysler Dodge Durango, along with General Motors Chevrolet Tahoe, are now tapping into the police vehicle markets previously dominated by Ford's Crown Victoria now that it's out of production.

"The 'Crown Vic' were great cars because they were big—we have some big deputies that drive them," added Molinar. "When you're 6 foot, 5 inches, it's tough to fit into smaller vehicles—the Chevrolet Impala just was too small. For that reason, we are looking at how the Durango fits our needs."

In addition to drivability, equipment now carried by the deputies has increased over the last decade, said Sgt. Pete Burkett, Brandon Township substation commander.

"More departments have decided they need the space of an SUV, there's a lot more equipment to carry than 20 years ago."

Video cameras, on-board computers, radar units, license plate recognition equipment and a ticket printer are just some of the standard gear in a patrol car.

"Plus a shotgun or rifle and an SUV is even pretty full in the front," he said. "Then the hardware to all the electronics fills the trunk—so much that they have to take out the spare tire," he said.

"Stop sticks, a tire-deflation device for high-speed pursuits, flashlights, water bottles, first aid kit, and defibrillation kit. There's also an active shooter response kit now in the cars," he said.

"Space is at a premium."

The added space in an SUV coupled with improved traction in diverse driving conditions are the right combination, said Burkett.

"So far this winter we've put the Durango to the test," he said.

"Four wheel drive is a necessity in many places in the township—a sedan patrol car with front wheel drive just can't make it."