The Merced County Sheriff's Department added two new Ford sport utility vehicles to its patrol fleet this month, officials said Tuesday.
The SUV police interceptors gradually will replace 35 Ford sedans, a process that may take two to three years, according to spokesman deputy Delray Shelton.
The sedans will be taken out of service as they experience mechanical problems, crashes or exceed mileage levels, he added.
Each 2013 Ford Police Interceptor Utility costs about $26,000, with additional charges for police lighting, striping and front partitions.
In comparison, the 2011 Ford Crown Victoria had a base price of $24,000. But Ford no longer makes that vehicle, Shelton said.
The cost of the SUVs will be paid through the general budget, he noted.
Although the SUVs cost more, Shelton said they're 25 percent more fuel efficient and will enhance officer safety with new features.
"At the end of the day, it's going to ensure safety and better service for the community and actually save us money," he said. "As opposed to the sedans now, these vehicles will have a higher resale value."
The vehicles also have an all-inclusive navigation system to allow dispatch to track units, providing quicker response times and accountability.
The SUVs also provide more front-seat room for the deputies.
"Sheriff Pazin wants to be sure the men and women in the agency have the best equipment to perform their jobs," Shelton said. "It will help us expedite service calls and provide superior service to the residents of Merced County."
Shelton said the previous sedan was "a shell" with most of its emergency equipment purchased and added after market.
On the flip side, the SUVs don't have many after- market costs. However, they will not include the top light bar, radio, striping, computer and front partition.
Shelton said the local Merced dealership, Razzari Ford, won the bidding process, so all the vehicles will be purchased through it.
Vehicle repairs and service will go through the county's maintenance yard, he added.
The feedback on the SUVs has been positive, Shelton said.
"People are loving them, and we're getting lots of positive feedback from the community," he said.
The department plans to roll out a few additional SUVs by early summer, he said.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.