Intelligence Report: How police SUVs take on snow

February 4, 2011 5:16:33 PM PST
This week's blizzard was the first major test of Chicago's new police patrol fleet.

In this Intelligence Report: how the Chevy Tahoes did and what one mayoral candidate is saying after helping to push a police SUV from some deep snow.

Chicago police officials spent tens of millions of dollars the last two years replacing most of their aging Ford patrol cars with Chevy Tahoe SUVs.

The old Crown Victoria sedans were popular with many officers but terrible in the snow because they were rear-wheel drive cars.

Even though the Tahoes are SUV's, they are rear-wheel drive as well, with no four-wheel function.

On Friday night, there is some disagreement as to how they performed.

Pictures are popping up on police websites as evidence that the rear-wheel drive Tahoes failed during this week's blizzard.

On Friday, a Chicago police spokesman disputes that, saying that only 25 Tahoes from a total fleet of 3,000 vehicles needed towing during the storm.

"In some conditions you could be driving an M-1 Abrams tank and you're not going to move forward on this," said Chicago Police Department Superintendent Jody Weis.

Even as the blizzard wound down, Chicago's police superintendent hailed his fleet of rear-wheel drive SUVs.

The purchase of the rear-wheel vehicles over four-wheel drive vehicles was not a budget consideration.

"We went with the pursuit package vehicles -- they handle best and have the best handling package, idling and capabilities," Weis said.

"These are police-designed vehicles," Weis continued. "We didn't look at the four-wheel drive capability when we went to replace this fleet because these have been tested by numerous agencies across the United States and most of the agencies we talked to use them in the snow. They do fairly well in the snow."

One of the SUVs, however, did get stuck, and Rahm Emanuel helped push it out. If elected mayor, he says the police fleet may change.

"We have snowstorms. It is the City of Chicago. It did not make sense to me," Emanuel said.

Emanuel's campaign took the picture of him pushing out the SUV during a stop Thrusday and he spoke about it Friday exclusively with ABC7 political reporter Charles Thomas.

"We finally got it out. It only took a couple of minutes back and forth of rocking it," Emanuel said. "And I said to her, 'Why didn't you put it in four-wheel drive?' she said, 'You don't understand. This is not a four wheel, we only have two wheels.' I said, 'I don't understand.' You have Tahoes in the Ccity of Chicago for the reason you have an SUV -- so you can get four wheel."

Emanuel said as mayor he would get rid of the police Procurement Director who did the SUV deal.

Police Tahoes are available with four wheel drive but they cost a couple thousand dollars more and are not intended for high speed or heavy-use police driving.

Despite that, some departments have gone to them or the front-wheel drive Impala, which is what St. Louis now uses.

Statement from Lt. Maureen C. Biggane, Chicago Police News Affairs

"In weather conditions such as what we experienced this week, the Tahoe clearly provided better clearance in the snow than the Crown Victoria. Very few Chicago police vehicles required assistance during the blizzard. Out of the Chicago Police Department's fleet of 3,000 a total of 40 vehicles were towed, including 25 Tahoes.

The police pursuit rated Chevy Tahoe is also used by the Michigan State Police. The Chevy Tahoe was selected as a replacement for the Ford Crown Victoria, which is a rear-wheel drive vehicle, as well. The top priority when deciding on a vehicle was to ensure it was rated for police pursuits. This is critical for officer safety. Currently, there is no police pursuit rated 4WD vehicle available. The standard 4WD vehicles do not lend themselves to aggressive driving, as they have a higher center of gravity and are susceptible to rolling over when driven aggressively. The Tahoe, with the police pursuit package, offered additional benefits over the Crown Victoria, including more room, taller ride height providing greater visibility, better gas mileage and extended life expectancy.

Police Pursuit is the commonly used term in the automotive industry for vehicles safety rated for use by first responders. Police pursuit rated vehicles are meant to handle heavy acceleration, abrupt turns, heavy braking and other maneuvers that are not necessarily "pursuit". For instance, brakes on a non-first responder-rated vehicle that are not rated for heavy use will overheat under heavy police driving, leading to brake fade, and potential for accidents which would result in higher costs for the City."