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ECSO to get new fleet of patrol cars
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It may be several weeks until they hit the road, but the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office is about to field almost a new fleet of patrol cars.

County commissioners approved spending up to $750,000 for leases on 18 new patrol cars, replacing several cars damaged recently and other cars that are aging and nearing the end of their service life.

Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said his department has lost seven cars in the last two weeks. Three vehicles were rendered useless with transmission problems, another to a faulty computer, another to electrical problems and two of them to crashes.

“We’re in dire straits,” he said.

The new cars also would essentially replace the fleet of Ford Crown Victorias still in use. Ford no longer makes the Crown Victoria, which had been a popular model for law enforcement agencies.

The sheriff’s office replaced two cars with inmate boarding funds. But McDuffie needed to find the resources to pay for four additional cars and for 14 patrol vehicles he had requested. The new cars are expected to be delivered in eight to 10 weeks.

Patrol vehicles average 300 miles a night, the sheriff said.

“By January 1, I’ll have 24 cars with over 150,000 miles, and 12 will be over 200,000. And I still have to go from January to July before a new budget kicks in,” McDuffie said. “We’re getting down to the point where we don’t have a choice.”

The ECSO had been cannibalizing its fleet to keep other cars on the road.

“We’ve robbed doors off of them, robbed fenders off of them, robbed hoods off of them to keep what we’ve got going and going,” McDuffie said. “Some of the cars are getting to be pretty rough.”

McDuffie said the department ordinarily gets 100,000 miles or three years out of patrol cars.

The sheriff had asked for 28 cars in the current budget but they were removed. Some of the ECSO’s cars are 2004 models, McDuffie pointed out.

“And now we’re having to do something else,” he said.

The sheriff’s office has 28 cars for its patrol division. Patrol cars that have reached the end of their life of high-mileage, high-pursuit vehicles are turned over for use by school resource officers or the ECSO’s civil division.

“We try to get another three or four years out of them,” McDuffie said. “But we haven’t been buying cars in a long time.”

When he took office in 2002, the ECSO was buying 15 cars a year for three years.

“We were almost as in as bad a shape then as we are now,” McDuffie said.

The ECSO purchased six new cars last year, and the agreement Tuesday night will replenish the patrol department’s ranks.

“We need to establish a regular rotation every year,” said Commissioner Vera Jones.

When it comes time to buy new cars for the detectives, McDuffie said they could obtain V6 Dodge Chargers, instead of eight-cylinder engine Chargers. County finance director Joanna Wright said the gas saved by using six-cylinder engines could be enough over three to five years to pay for an additional car.

McDuffie also said the new cars will be cheaper on maintenance.

“We won’t be totaling out as many because when we bump a deer, which seem to do at least monthly, they won’t be totaling the car,” he said. “We can get them fixed and get them back on the road.”

Each car will cost between $23,000 and $25,000 and outfitting the cars will cost another $11,000 to $14,000. Because the old cars are Ford Crown Victorias and the new cars aren’t, very little can be transferred from the vehicles, except for the radios and some electronic equipment.

Any shortfall from the approved amount for the leases will be covered by the county’s contingency fund, which recently grew by $299,000 because of savings from a new health insurance policy.