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Costa Mesa police trade in venerable Crown Vics for high-tech cars

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Costa Mesa police Sgt. Zack Hoferitza remembers when officers would sign out a videotape at the beginning of a shift, load it into a patrol car and hope there was enough space on the dash camera tape to record everything that might happen.

Soon, those Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors, once almost synonymous with "police car," are going to be as outdated as the VCR.

On Tuesday, Hoferitza showed off two new models of the Interceptor that first hit Costa Mesa streets in September — complete with a digital dash cam that automatically and wirelessly uploads to a central server as soon as it's in range of the police station, the Daily Pilot reported.

"This is the first new-model police car that Costa Mesa has purchased in about 25 years," said Lt. Mark Manly.

Over that time the department relied on Crown Vics, but Ford discontinued the venerable squad car model in 2011.

"This was a once-in-a-career opportunity for us to create the next-generation culture, not only in police cars but our police department," Manly said.

Chevrolet and Dodge also make police cars. After an 18-month process, the department decided to stick with Ford.

In September, the city purchased 10 new Ford Police Interceptors — five sedans, modified from the Taurus, and five sport utility vehicles, modified from the Explorer.

The traditional black-and-white color scheme is gone in favor of an all-black paint job with white wording.

"It's contemporary," Manly said. "It's technological. It's advanced. It's kind of what we expect from our police officers."

The city council on Tuesday approved the purchase of 10 more SUVs at a cost of more than $40,000 each. The sedans are slightly cheaper at about $35,000 each, Manly said, but the department prefers the all-wheel drive and space provided by the SUVs.

The police department hopes to have its entire fleet of 42 vehicle replaced by the end of 2015.

Typically, the department replaces its cars once they hit 80,000 miles driven, and three-quarters of the fleet is bumping up against that cap right now, Hoferitza said.

Each new car comes with features like an improved LED light bar that lets officers customize patterns or flood cars in front of them with "takedown lights" during a risky stop.

"When the suspect looks back they can't see anything," Hoferitza said.

Inside, the cruiser and SUV doors are ballistic panels that will stop just about any handgun round and some rifle rounds.

A redesigned seat belt means officers don't have to reach across an arrestee to strap him in, and protective panels in the seat backs prevent someone in the backseat from stabbing the driver.

Hoferitza hyped the civilian-grade features just as much, touting the safety and comfort of a new rear-view camera and cellphone sync system.

Once the cars receive a new computer system upgrade, Hoferitza hopes Costa Mesa's equipment will become the gold standard for Orange County — the new all-black look included.

"It's kind of trendsetting," he said. "It's bold. It's aggressive, and we have got nothing but positive comments from the public [while] driving these things."

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jeremiah.dobruck@latimes.com

Dobruck writes for Times Community News.

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