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Hot Police Car Nabs Speeders, Wows Kids

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When traffic Officer Dean Brewer pulls up to a stop light in his black-and-white Chevrolet Camaro Z28 with its big engine rumbling, onlookers often do a double take.

“Wow! Is that a police car?” some exclaim.

The sleek, low-slung coupe with bucket seats, spoilers and aluminum wheels is not your usual sedan-type cop car.

But Azusa police say the speedy car is perfect for nabbing traffic violators along Arrow Highway and on California 39, the winding mountain road up San Gabriel Canyon to Crystal Lake and the Angeles National Forest.

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Police say the car also boosts their image with youth, cuts drivers’ hostility over speeding tickets and breaks down the barrier between officers and the community they serve.

“I can’t say which takes priority,” Capt. John Broderick said. “The Camaro is used for high-speed pursuit and as a community relations tool.”

The sporty car, which has been in service for more than a year, is a rarity among local police departments. Only Chino, in San Bernardino County, with its black-and-white Camaro, and Seal Beach, in Orange County, with a black-and-white, Seleen-customized Ford Mustang, have similar police vehicles.

A few other departments with hot cars, such as Colton, also in San Bernardino County, have simply converted spiffy vehicles seized in drug raids. Officers show off these autos in parades and on school campuses as a public relations tool.

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The Z28 joined the Azusa police fleet of 16 sedate four-door Ford Caprices in May, 1990. Purchased for $15,830 before taxes, the car was slipped past the City Council in 1989 as a nondescript item in the Police Department budget, Mayor Eugene Moses said.

“I’m not a car buff,” he said. “The police put down ‘Camaro’ on the list . . . and nothing was said that it was going to be a small car.”

The mayor said he was shocked when he first saw the Z28 on city streets.

“You can’t get a prisoner in the back,” he said. “You can’t even put a dog in the back.”

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Moses changed his mind, however, when he saw the reaction from children, teen-agers and adults. While the sleek Camaro regularly plies the city streets, it does double duty at car shows, school events and the city’s annual “Golden Days” parade.

“You can put that car in front of any school and see the kids come running,” the mayor said. “And it’s not just kids. I’m talking high school.”

Moses now considers the car a plus for the city, well worth the investment.

The Camaro’s usual driver is Brewer, the city’s senior patrol officer. He says onlookers often yell, howl or wave their fists in the air in approval. Others ask to take photographs.

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Motorists he tickets often end up asking him how fast he’s gone in the car (130 m.p.h.), or want him to pop open the hood for a look at the Camaro’s power plant.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” Brewer said about opening the hood. “Some cars are all chromed out, but this is a working car.”

The no-nonsense 5.7-liter V-8 engine gives Brewer the acceleration he needs to make swift U-turns when his radar spots speeders driving in the opposite direction. It also enables him to nab speeding motorcyclists, who usually have an advantage over slower police sedans.

But the Camaro does have its disadvantages, Brewer said. There is no wire screen separating back-seat passengers from the driver, as in regular police cars, so only docile prisoners can be put in the tiny rear compartment.

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It’s a squeeze in the car’s front bucket seats, a tough climb out of the low-slung body and a 10-hour shift of rough riding with the car’s tight suspension, he said.

Still, Brewer liked his traffic car so much that four months after first climbing in, he traded in his own truck for a used 1989 Camaro.

Yet it’s just not the same, said Brewer, who is married and has two children.

“I don’t get half the looks, male or female, in my personal car.”

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