Lindsay PD rolling out new hybrid SUVs

By C.J. Barbre

The shiny new white SUV had rain-spattered dust on the windshield as if it had busted into a ghostly crime scene.

Classic car carcasses were positioned around the warehouse/auto body shop at 500 N. Mt. Vernon Ave.; a mustang, ‘57 chevy, classic T-bird, coupes and roadsters. Police calls emanated from the Toyota Highlander's radio. Heavy metal/rock music played in the background.

&#8220We started with a jig,” said Vinny Carlos, proprietor of Vinny's Custom Welding Fabrication & Automotive Suspension. &#8220We designed it in their car first. I want to make a formal apology for burning the seats and upholstery.” Vinny has a self deprecating sense of humor. His shop is manufacturing police cages for the Highlanders.

&#8220We have to make two fixtures, for the front and back cages. We make all of the panels out of sheet metal. We kind of rolled the finish, like a hot rod. Then we coated it in bed liner so it won't scratch. It softens the look. We add expanding metal and a plexiglass window. This was all built and designed by a guy who never had a geometry class, failed math over and over again.”

Vinny said it was, in effect, a production line type of operation, &#8220So we just knock them all out instead of having to measure each one.” The cages can be bolted in and out.

Vinny turns on the police lights and beeps the siren, &#8220The only time I get to do that,” he said. &#8220I don't want to be riding in the back of one of these things.”

Police agencies around the United States are buying hybrid police cars to replace gas-guzzling counterparts and save taxpayers' money, and have been since at least 2001. According to hybridcars.com, there are eight sedans, 10 SUVs or minivans, and two trucks available now or expected to be introduced by 2007. Hybrid cars can get up to 50 mpg.

Lindsay's deal is a little different in that the city used grant monies from three different funding sources, so that according to city finance director Kenny Walker, &#8220Our citizens get the benefit of an entire new police fleet for 11 cents on the dollar.”

Community Development Consultant and grant writer Kindon Meik said the city has received approximately $500,000 from CMAQ in two sections, one just for the police cars. It has received approximately $120,000 from the USDA and $40,000 from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. This is allocated for 22 vehicles: 18 for public safety, 15 for police, three for fire, two cars for administrative use and two for general car-pool use. He said there was also a one-time grant from Homeland Security that is paying for the radios and computers for the vehicles.

How it works, Meik said, &#8220We submit applications to TCAG. From there they select those which best represent the county and send them on to Caltrans. Caltrans decides which applications it will fund.” He said this is in conjunction with the Federal Transportation Improvement Project list which is an indicator of how many vehicles the city could get.

The Toyota Highlander SUV hybrids have proven to be so popular that Meik said with some pride, &#8220We have now acquired 15 of the 22 vehicles. When we started they said we would never get more than two.” Meik said one dealership in Southern California he had been working with called to see if they wanted a white vehicle the dealership had recently acquired. By then Meik had acquired 10 such vehicles for the city. When he told her, he said, &#8220She laughed and said, ‘I think you have more Highlanders on your lot than any dealership in the nation right now.' I think we will turn some heads when we have all 22,” Meik concluded.

It is estimated each vehicle will save $2,300 to $2,500 per year in gasoline not purchased.

&#8220The reason the funds were available was air quality,” Walker said. He said they were originally looking at a Ford hybrid. &#8220But the police did not like the idea of driving anything with ‘Escape' written on it.” TCAG said Lindsay has gotten $4-$5 million over a seven year period just through TCAG. &#8220They hit a home run for air quality.”

Lindsay Public Safety Director Bert Garzelli said, ”So far we are very pleased with the performance [of the hybrids].” None are on patrol yet, but they are being driven around to various vendors for outfitting, like Vinny's.

Garzelli said the transition from electric to gas &#8220is seamless. They have plenty of power and seem to handle well. We've been very pleased.” He said the city could not have afforded the cars without grant funding. He said the finished vehicle outfitted for police work would be an investment of $43,000 to $44,000. &#8220We hope to get eight to 10 years of service.” He said the Crown Victorias they are currently using are only kept in service three to four years. The department has instituted a new &#8220take home” program. &#8220We're hoping by having a single driver program, wear and tear will be reduced,” he said.

Garzelli said he sees a future where all government agencies use hybrid vehicles. &#8220You gotta go where the technology is,” he asserted.

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