At first glance, the police cars patrolling Capitol Hill don’t look any different from a typical fleet car, with lights on top and logos on the side.
But what tourists and staffers are seeing is a new set of cars with fresh and uniform designs, part of a five-year plan to keep the Capitol Police’s fleet up to date and ready to go.
Through some careful planning, the new cars are expected to actually cut about $2 million in costs for the department over the long term.
“We’re saving in almost every aspect in implementing the new fleet, not only in the vehicle costs but the equipment that we install,” said Marcelino Santos, manager of the Capitol Police Vehicle Maintenance Division.
The process to replace the fleet started in 2008 and 2009, when the Capitol Police developed a five-year plan to replace its fleet, which had been in use for nearly 10 years.
The major challenge was figuring out how to replace the 201 cars, which had much wear and tear after a decade on the streets, while cutting costs.
Rather than buying new cars, the department decided to rent them through the General Services Administration, which handles the federal government’s car purchases and rentals. The new cars are being phased in, a process that started in 2010 and will end next year.
The old cars, owned by the Capitol Police, are turned over to the GSA and then sold.
The Capitol Police saved time and money by working with the GSA to rent the Ford Crown Victorias in bulk, rather than having administration deal with it, Santos said.
Capitol Police also made sure that the new cars are all E85 compatible, allowing them to use ethanol as fuel. The next step was to figure out a graphics redesign of the car. Santos calls the old design — which emblazoned “Police” on the side, had a large U.S. flag and splashes of light blue — busy and dated.
“With a new fleet and new cars, why stick the old graphics on them?” Santos said.
The cars still use blue in the design but are now a darker blue that matches the Capitol Police officers’ uniforms.
The cars also now feature the Capitol Police’s website address, uscapitolpolice.gov.
The updated look was snappy enough that the department decided to enter it in a police vehicle design contest. They’ll find out the results later this year.
“It’s definitely a nice look, and we’re proud of it,” Santos said.
The lights received a touch-up, moving from a rotating series to a strobe series. That means the LEDs on the top of the cars are thinner and brighter and use little power, making them more effective.
Because the new lights use less power, they’re less likely to need repairs, another money-saving measure.
The old cars were in the shop often, Santos said, so officers had a lot of downtime while they waited for their cars to be fixed. That won’t be an issue with the new fleet.
“When you minimize the downtime, you keep them out on the streets,” he said. “That’s where they need to work.”
Santos joked that he now misses seeing the officers hanging around his office.
“They’re never here anymore,” he said. “But it’s for the best.”