The Belle Meade Police Department needed a more economical vehicle option, and set about doing its homework. The solution: The Volkswagen Passat TDI, which boasts nearly 50 mpg fuel economy. Photos Belle Meade PD
Camera monitors were built in to the passenger sun visor, thereby avoiding overhead mounting issues.
The advantages of the Passat: fuel economy, environmental impact, safety, cost-efficiency and exceptional maneuverability.
The prisoner barrier is a standard Setina prisoner barrier with the Crown Victoria and Impala parts combined.
Inside the car, police radios and siren and light bar controls are console mounted. Radar and most video systems are the same as what’s in the department’s Chargers.
Camera, radio and assorted electronics are efficiently arranged on a roll-away trunk shelf.
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When it comes to purchasing future patrol vehicles these days, there are many choices out there. But there’s only one question you should be asking: “What will really meet my departmental needs?”
In a world where technology abounds—and there are more choices than ever—it’s best to focus on the problem you’re trying to solve, rather than the options available. Bottom line: Buying something shiny, fast and cool is the easy part. What takes discipline is taking a hard look at what your city needs and then making a sound decision. Sometimes this leads to unconventional outcomes.
Conjure up old Southern style and grace and you might have a picture of Belle Meade, Tenn. It’s a picture-perfect little town just west of Nashville, with little crime and an upscale populace.
The department serves a population of approximately 3,000 people in a city of 3.1 square miles, with about 64 miles of paved roadway. There are 16 sworn officers including five-year Police Chief Timothy Eads. Thirteen officers work regular shift assignments, and there’s a lieutenant who serves as second-in-command and a detective. The Belle Meade PD (BMPD) operates its own 24/7 dispatch center, with four full-time communication officers supplemented by two part-time communication officers. Due to its proximity, the department also works with Metro-Nashville PD and, through mutual aid, often assists them with calls for service on their borders.
The department has a fleet of Chargers, but it became apparent that a more economical option needed to be pursued. The Volkswagen Passat was the solution.
The VW Passat
Although the nameplate has been around for decades, the Volkswagen (VW) Passat model that Belle Meade purchased is all new for 2012. According to VW, the 2012 Passat in the turbo-diesel-injected (TDI) form is powered by a 2.0-liter engine that produces 140 hp and a stout 236 ft.-lb of torque. The 0–60 numbers are in the mid-eight-second range, which places it alongside the Dodge Charger V6 and Ford Interceptor SUV. Compared to the V8 Charger or Caprice, these numbers seem a little slow. But in the proper package, the VW Passat can work well in a FWD and deliver fuel economy that the other vehicles can’t come close to.
Plus, when all of your streets are heavily residential, narrow and winding, do you really need a 150-mph patrol vehicle? Having personally driven a 2012 Passat TDI around in Los Angeles recently, I can say diesel torque is hard to beat, and the road manners are excellent.
But the most important point is Belle Meade didn’t choose the Passat for what it couldn’t do, but what it could do to meet the specific needs of their patrol environment. In order to find out more, I talked with BMPD’s Police Chief Timothy Eads about the department’s reasoning and considerations in choosing the 2012 Passat TDI as their next patrol vehicle.
Reasons for the Decision
The unstable rise of fuel prices over the last few years have hit BMPD’s budget like everyone else, making it extremely difficult to plan long-term, says Eads. BMPD decided to look at alternative vehicles that could deliver fuel savings, performance and safety, and be a suitable platform for law enforcement use in a municipality.
Some of the performance parameters considered when choosing an alternative vehicle were acceleration, handling and stopping distance, says Eads. The department took several test drives in the Passat with different officers, one of which was a certified EVOC instructor. They put the Passat through scenarios tailored to patrol needs in Belle Meade.
BMPD found that the biggest advantages of the Passat are fuel economy, environmentally friendly emissions, safety features, cost of the vehicle and exceptional maneuverability.
“The turning radius is unbelievable,” says Eads, which will result in time saved turning around the vehicle quickly. One of the Belle Meade officers told me: “I’d gladly give up 100 hp to be able to turn around on a dime.”
BMPD also looked at hybrids. The Toyota Camry was evaluated on paper, but both the V-6 and V-6 Hybrid didn’t have mpg ratings as high as the Passat. Nearby, White Bluff (Tenn.) PD had two Toyota Prius hybrids in use, but the cost and size determined it wasn’t suitable for Belle Meade’s intended use. BMPD also had concerns about maintenance with the batteries, and costs that may be connected with the Hybrid drive system in the long run.
Ultimately, hybrids were ruled out due to concerns with long-term maintenance, and the Passat’s high-fuel-mileage estimates were very attractive and competitive compared to hybrids, Eads says. In fact, during testing on the nearby historic Natchez Trace Parkway, Eads says they drove a slick-top version of the Passat on a 248-mile trip, achieving an astounding 54.486 mpg. A follow-up test with another Passat using a Whelen Justice 44-inch LED light bar yielded a still-amazing 50 mpg. Clearly, the fuel economy advantages of using the diesel platform are evident.
I can attest to the fuel mileage: The Passat TDI I recently drove registered in the 40-plus mpg range. The estimated maintenance cost of the Passat is projected to be comparable to BMPD’s actual maintenance figures on the department’s Chargers (2007–2010) in the areas of tires, brakes and oil.
Although Chief Eads says their informal test wasn’t to the level of the Michigan State Police proving grounds, it was helpful at least for short-term evaluation. It also helped BMPD test the Passats on the actual streets the vehicles would be patrolling. In the end, the Passat TDI fit their criteria and the officers’ valuable feedback convinced the department to conduct a live trial by purchasing three Passat TDIs for evaluation.
Chief Eads says he doesn’t have an exact figure of how much the first three Passats will save on fuel costs for their department. Their original research looked at an entire fleet of 15. Based on that figure, the department is estimating that they would cut fuel costs in half without cutting back on patrol miles. This means saving approximately $43,000.00 a year, which is pretty substantial, especially for a small agency.
Inside the Passat
So far the light bar, police radio, siren, radar, weapons mount and most video systems will all transfer over from the Chargers. The radios required a custom bracket that the department designed and built in house. This custom bracket also houses the siren controls and requires no drilling of the dash.
Eads opted to purchase new camera systems that are in a component configuration to avoid any overhead mounting issues. The camera monitor is built into the passenger’s sun visor. BMPD was also able to use a trunk lip mount for the antenna, so that the only exterior hole that had to be drilled in the body was the spotlight in the driver’s-side windshield post.
Chief Eads says the standard MDC screen fits just fine, and that the prisoner barrier was initially going to be a universal, plastic-coat wire type that’s fully adjustable with a Plexiglas cover. However, BMPD went with a standard Setina prisoner barrier with a combination of Crown Victoria and Chevrolet Impala cage parts that kept fabrication to a minimum. Note: The Charger cage will fit, but would need a transfer kit with Crown Vic and Impala parts.
The first Passats are being built in the slick-top configuration with the Whelen 44-inch light bar fitting best when combined with Dodge Charger gutter brackets. Minimal mounting holes had to be drilled into the headliner area to mount the interior light bars, but Eads found this to be more stable than the typical set up of mounting to the sun-visor brackets. A horizontal shotgun mount at the top of the prisoner barrier was pulled from their current fleet of both horizontal and floor mounts.
The Passats will be single-officer driven, generally, “but they’ll be set up to accommodate two officers,” says Eads.
Since the department has a take-home program, the vehicles will be used for regular patrol. Initially, the shift sergeants will drive the Passats, and perform evaluation as to their suitability for patrol use in Belle Meade.
“If all goes well,” says Chief Eads, “The entire fleet will switch over.”
Concerns & Compromises
Even though there were some concerns about outfitting the Passat for police duty, most standard equipment fit the Passat with some minor bracket fabrication. Eads says none of the above changes or purchases are seen as a setback because BMPD will recover some costs by selling a fully equipped patrol car, minus police radio and radar.
A second concern, Eads says, was the horsepower deficit. But this could be more perception than reality: torque is what really matters in a police vehicle. He also says he likes having the larger brakes that come on the V-6 Passat. And even though the VW’s alternator isn’t police-specific, the electrical draw from today’s police equipment is much less than it used to be.
The Bottom Line
The patrol vehicle market has many excellent choices that inspire enthusiasm and desire to add to your fleet. But when it comes down to selecting the right vehicle in these economic times, your choice should be based on your needs, which requires either narrowing your list or seeking out new solutions. The introduction of the diesel-powered VW Passats into Belle Meade’s patrol fleet addresses a specific set of the department’s needs—and could very well set the stage for more departments to follow.
Thanks to Chief Timothy Eads, Lt. Vince Higgins and Rose Smeltzer-Higgins for their assistance on this story. For more information, contact Chief Timothy Eads at TEads@citybellemeade.org.