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Guest opinion

Cunningham: New police cars on the prowl in Tucson

The next time you see a police cruiser or a fire vehicle, you might see a decal that says "Tucson Delivers." That means it was purchased with the half-cent sales tax that you voted for last year.

The city expects to raise $250 million through the tax. $100 million will go to roads and the remaining $150 million will go to new equipment and facilities for our first responders.

How these two amounts of money are spent is overseen by two citizens' committees. Much of the road money is still in the planning process; the public safety portion has already shown results.

The Fire Department has already used a part of that money for new heart monitors, but has also gotten some new vehicles: four pumpers, 1 aerial unit, 1 aerial bucket and four battalion trucks. The city has also put an apparatus (an engine/ladder truck) on order, but it will be several months before it arrives.

The Police Department will be receiving 70 patrol units, 35 of which have arrived. The next 35 are scheduled to arrive later this year.

There will also be an additional 27 unmarked units, 25 of which have arrived. I don't think they'll be putting a "Tucson Delivers" decal on those.

One thing you've probably already noticed is that the newer police cruisers are not sedan-style like we've seen on the road for decades, but more like an SUV. This change started a few years ago when Ford discontinued the Crown Victoria, which was the basis for their Police Interceptor. The new vehicle, still called a Police Interceptor, is based on the Ford Explorer.

Of course, they aren't quite like the Ford Explorers you are used to. Even so, getting them ready for the streets isn't just a matter of painting "Tucson Police" on the side. There are modifications that need to be made to make the new vehicles useful for our police.

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The responsibility for that falls on some folks who you don't often hear about: the employees of the Fleet Services Division. 91 city employees work in Fleet Services, a division headed up by Tammy Smith. A crew of six from Fleet Services is responsible for what they call "upfit": installing the radios, dashboard equipment and sirens that our officers need. Carlos Castro is the lead mechanic on the team that has been working diligently on the upfit of these vehicles for the last few weeks.

In addition to this work, the people in Fleet Services are responsible for maintaining police vehicles so that they can be safely operated by our officers.

51 more new Police Interceptors are due to arrive next year.

Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.

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