Police using cash seized in 2002 to buy new cars, Impalas

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 18, 2004

[3/18/04]The Vicksburg Police Department will shift to Chevrolets, starting with the purchase of 20 new cruisers using money seized following a traffic stop two years ago.

The new Impalas will be added to today’s inventory of Ford Crown Victorias, some of which will be phased out as they wear out.

City and police officials say they also hope to get a new look for the force.

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“I think our police department has come a long, long way in three years, and I’d like to see a cleaner image on our police cars and uniforms,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

The 20 new sedans will cost $339,161 under state contract price. The department is also getting two Dodge Ram pickups for $33,504.

About $150,000 will also be needed for lights, sirens radios, insignia and other costs.

Today, the city has about 75 police cars for about 72 officers.

While city vehicles have been bought a few at a time in the past, the record outlay is being made possible using the $629,555 confiscated by police in 2002 after a pickup was stopped on Interstate 20. Officers cited Michael Gregory, 57, of Hobbs, N.M., for careless driving and, in the process, discovered the money hidden in a gas tank.

Gregory paid a $65 traffic fine, left town and hasn’t been heard from since. In 2003, lawyers for the city were granted a court order to keep the money as abandoned property.

Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon said the Chevrolets will be better. “It was simply economics,” he said, adding the Impalas cost about $3,000 each less than the Crown Victorias, are less expensive to maintain and scored better in testing done by the Michigan State Police comparing the two cars and the Dodge Intrepid.

The testing compared braking distance, acceleration, interior room, top speed and other factors of the three cars. While the Crown Victoria had the greatest top speed, the Impala had the better acceleration and braking distance.

For example, from 60 mph, the Impala stopped 15 feet before the Crown Victoria. “That’s the difference in an accident,” O’Bannon said.

In addition to the new cars, the department is seeking new designs for the logos on the cars and considering new uniforms for officers. “We want something that will be unique to Vicksburg,” he said.

Today, the cars have “police” and “Vicksburg” in bold letters, the police department logo and black, red and gold stripes down the sides. Officers’ uniforms are black, which has drawn concerns over heat during the summer.

When inaugurated three years ago, Leyens told a convention center audience the poor performance of police operations was the main reason he was elected.

The administration initiated a series of changes, saying they wanted the top-paid force in the state with the best-trained and qualified officers. Former Biloxi Chief Tommy Moffett and O’Bannon, a deputy there, were hired.

The Biloxi Police Department also uses Impalas for patrol cars.