The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office is replacing its classic Ford Crown Victoria cruisers with Chevrolet Tahoes, in part because the SUVs have lots of cargo space.

Lt. Tom Williams says he has so much gear that he has stacked it in the cruiser’s trunk in reverse order of what he thinks he might need.

“Some things, you need right off the bat: your spike mat, your CPR mask,” Williams said. And invariably, what he needed was buried. “It’s just like the utility belt. It’s more and more equipment.”

The sheriff’s office expects to start taking delivery of the first batch of Chevrolet Tahoes next week, replacing five cruisers that have more than 120,000 hard miles on them, said Capt. Don Goulet, who has overseen the transition.

Deputies who are hired by Harpswell, Harrison and Standish for additional coverage in those towns will also get Tahoes — with two going to Standish — for a total of nine new vehicles.

Williams said the cargo room was a consideration in the decision to make the change.

“It’s even more critical for our guys on the dive team and (tactical team). They’re carrying even more equipment,” Williams said, referring to scuba tanks, wet and dry suits, ballistic shields and additional weaponry, some of which can end up in the back seat. Deputies got to test drive the Tahoe and other models on a closed course at Brunswick Landing, the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, late last year.

“We test drove all of them,” Goulet said. “The Tahoe handled well and it scores very high (on industry evaluations). When we put everything on paper and started weighing everything out, it was the top choice.”

The new vehicles cost $26,400 each. All-wheel drive Ford cruisers and Dodge Charger cruisers cost $27,000 and $27,500, respectively, Goulet said. A Ford sedan is less expensive but lacks the space benefits.

Fuel efficiency also was an important consideration for the sheriff’s office, which budgets to buy 66,700 gallons of gasoline a year for 35 vehicles, 23 of which are patrol cars.

The department also has 16 cruisers deployed to the towns that have contracts with the county for additional coverage. Those are not included in that fuel total.

The SUVs would seem to be less fuel-efficient, but Goulet said they are competitive.

Mileage figures range from 15 to 21 miles per gallon for other models, he said. The Tahoe is projected to get 18 miles per gallon, he said.

The Michigan State Police vehicle evaluation program lists the Tahoe at 17 miles per gallon. That’s not great, but it’s still an improvement.

“The Crown Vics are gas pigs,” he said. “We average 14 to 15 miles per gallon.”

Unlike many other sport utility vehicles, the Tahoe police version is built close to the ground. That means no big off-road adventures like in the commercials, but better efficiency and handling on the pavement.

Another cost consideration is that most of the equipment — like light bars, radio mounts and cages separating the back and front seats — can be transferred from the cruisers to the new vehicles, so the department won’t have to buy new police packages, which sell for about $10,000 each, Goulet said.

Goulet noted that while other factors are important, storage was a primary consideration.

In urban or suburban departments, supervisors often carry crime scene supplies, accident reconstruction equipment and other items, so the equipment typically is only a few minutes away from an officer who needs it. But in rural areas, a supervisor may be an hour away, Goulet said.

Cumberland County is not committed to a full conversion to sport utility vehicles. It also will buy a Chevrolet Caprice to evaluate how it performs on the job and is considering the all-wheel drive Fords for next year’s purchase.

One constituency that will likely lose out, regardless of which cruisers are in use: prisoners.

“They’re probably the ones that suffer the most in some of these cars, probably a little more in the Tahoe than a lot of the vehicles,” Goulet said. “Most of us, trying to get in the back, there wasn’t a lot of room.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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