New NYPD Transport Chief: We ‘Need’ Our SUVs!

Increasingly, this is the NYPD's squad car — an assault vehicle.
Increasingly, this is the NYPD's squad car — an assault vehicle.
It's our December donation drive. Your gift helps us do these kinds of important stories. So please click the logo above.
It’s our December donation drive. Your gift helps us do these kinds of important stories. So please click the logo above.

Cop culture + car culture = more SUVs for New York’s Finest!

New NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief defended his department’s ongoing effort to replace the sensible squad car with muscle-bound SUVs, even as the city’s Transportation commissioner decries the heavier sport utes as responsible for more and more carnage on New York roads.

“The department purchases cars based on the particular need,” Chief William Morris said Monday at his first public press conference since replacing Thomas Chan atop the Police Department’s crucial bureau 11 days ago. “We purchase vehicles that satisfy the need of the police department.” He declined to say more.

Morris comments came in response to a question by Streetsblog about why the Police Department would even consider SUVs, given that they are seen as the major reason for the 50-percent increase in annual pedestrian deaths nationally since 2007 and that city DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg recently released data showing that SUVs are now involved in 46 percent of deadly crashes over the last two years, up from 40 percent between 2013 and 2017.

Source: Department of Citywide Administrative Services
Source: Department of Citywide Administrative Services

The NYPD declined further comment about its purchasing strategy, which is slowly shifting over from sedans to SUVs. During fiscal years 2015-18, the agency purchased 2,493 SUVs and 2,255 sedan-style squad cars — more or less even. But over the past two years, SUVs have become 60.4 percent of new squad car purchases, according to data provided to Streetsblog by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The switch is certainly not a money-saving effort. A Ford Police Utility Interceptor SUV — which has become the most popular NYPD model — has a base price of $33,655, slightly more than sedans. And it has a slightly lower gas mileage than a Ford Taurus sedan, once a popular NYPD model. (The NYPD has started buying SUV hybrids to save gas, but those models have a higher initial cost.)

The slow and rarely discussed shift to larger cars alarmed Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives.

“I can’t speak to what the NYPD actually needs, but if it is ‘space,’ most people seemed to get around just fine in sedans and station wagons before the automobile industry convinced us we couldn’t live without their gas guzzling, assault vehicles that kill their drivers and anyone they hit at alarming levels,” he said.

This is not OK, regardless of what NYPD Commissioner James O'Neil says. Photo: Rich Garvey
This happened over the summer. Photo: Rich Garvey

The image of the SUV as a dangerous weapon in the hands of cops was cemented for many street safety advocates this summer, when a police officer used his SUV as a battering ram to stop a cyclist he claimed had run a series of red lights in the East Village.

But, of course, machismo is one of the reasons SUVs are so popular. Road test reviews of the Ford Police Intercepter SUV call it “the fastest police car,” which might be useful for law enforcement, but also goes a long way towards normalizing these vehicles in the mainstream culture, just as the military use of so-called “assault weapons” have made them so popular with civilians.