As Lake County sheriff's deputy Dave McNichol patrols the neighborhoods of Deer Park on his beat, he's occasionally stopped by residents who want to talk about, of all things, his cruiser.
McNichol is happy to oblige. He knows the silver-and-black Dodge Charger Pursuit he's been driving for about a month is eye-catching.
He also knows anything that gets people talking with police officers is a good thing.
“We stress community policing,” said McNichol, who got one of the department's new Chargers about four weeks ago and loves the car. “And this is a great opportunity to get out and meet the public.”
Several suburban police departments are turning to the Charger Pursuit, which is made by Chrysler, as their next-generation cruiser.
The purchases are happening now because Ford, which long has dominated the U.S. police car business, stopped accepting orders for the popular Crown Victoria Police Interceptor last year.
Police departments in Algonquin, Palatine, Wheaton, Wauconda and Hawthorn Woods are among those that have added Chargers to their fleets. Illinois State Police troopers drive them, too.
In Lake County, Chargers are slowly replacing a fleet of aging Crown Victorias and Chevrolet Impalas.
Twelve Chargers already are on the road, and 20 more are awaiting in-car video systems before joining the motor pool, sheriff's police Chief Wayne Hunter said.
Eight more will be delivered over the next two years for a total of 40.
Like McNichol, Hunter is a big fan of the Charger — and the positive reaction from the public is a big factor.
“No matter where they go, people stop (the deputies) and compliment them on their cars,” Hunter said. “For me, you can't put money on that.”
In a process that began last year, sheriff's administrators settled on the Dodge after deputies tested it and patrol cars based on three other models: the Chevrolet Impala, the Chevrolet Caprice and the Ford Taurus.
Chrysler started making a version of the Charger specifically for police in 2006. It began marketing the vehicle as the Charger Pursuit in 2011.
Chrysler won't disclose sales figures for the Charger Pursuit.
Even though it's a four-door car like traditional police cruisers, the Charger looks more like a 1970s muscle car than a family sedan.
The front and rear windshields both are sloped greater than those on the Crown Victoria, and the front end has more bulk than a traditional sedan.
“I think they look good,” said Palatine Police Cmdr. Mike Seebacher, whose department has three Charger squad cars. “It's different yet professional looking.”
The Charger performs like a muscle car, too. A V-6 engine provides 292 horsepower; an alternate Hemi V-8 engine provides a whopping 370 horsepower and even greater road speed.
The Wheaton Police Department has three Charger Pursuits with V-6 engines in their fleet. Deputy Chief Thomas Meloni said the cars handle the road well and are roomy enough for officers and all their gear.
The Chargers are also more fuel-efficient than the older squad cars, Meloni said, and that's a big positive for him.
“It's saving us a lot of money in fuel,” he said.
Lake County sheriff's deputies will drive Chargers with V-8 engines. Chargers with V-6 engines will be used as command vehicles.
Last fall, a Charger Pursuit V-8 recorded the fastest lap time in the history of the annual Michigan State Police vehicle tests.
“The performance cannot be beat,” said Jiyan Cadiz, a product communications manager with Chrysler.
The Charger isn't without problems.
Earlier this year, Chrysler recalled nearly 10,000 Charger police specials because of headlight-failure concerns. The recall also covered a different problem the company said could lead to a loss of the vehicle's anti-lock braking and stability control systems.
Consumer models of the Charger made in 2011 and this year have been recalled, too.
Those problems have kept some suburban departments from ordering Chargers for their fleet.
When it was time for Lincolnshire police to search for new squad cars, Sgt. Jamie Watson surveyed local departments and heard complaints about the Charger's mechanical reliability.
Watson has recommended his department go with the new Ford Police Interceptor, a model based on the Taurus.
“That was my main thing, what's the long-term durability,” Watson said.
Hunter isn't too worried about the recalls.
“It sounds like those problems have been solved,” he said. “We're confident with the warranty we've got. And we're hopeful that as time goes on, Dodge works those bugs out.”
Wauconda police have faith in the Charger, too. They have three Chargers now, including an unmarked patrol car, and are planning to buy two more.
The department considered the Ford Interceptor, but its roughly $28,500 price tag was about $6,000 more than the Charger's, Chief Douglas Larsson said.
“They're just too expensive,” Larsson said.
The manufacturer isn't the only thing that's different about the sheriff's new cruisers.
The silver-and-black paint and decals replace blue-and-yellow stripes and blue lettering that have decorated Lake County squad cars for 18 years.
Hunter thinks the paint design helps give the sheriff's office a fresher and younger image.
“I don't think we needed a new image, but every brand benefits from a new perspective,” Hunter said.
The new paint scheme might actually be good for the cars, Hunter said.
If the deputies feel good about the cars they're driving, he said, they may take better care of them.
And that could help them last longer.
“There was no downside to this decision,” Hunter said.
“We saved the taxpayers money, we have a new image the deputies are happy with, and we have citizens who would have never approached the police coming up to say, 'Cool car.'”
Ÿ Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.