Hundreds of Vermont state police cruisers are on the road every day – and it’s someone’s job to make sure they’re in good running order.
There’s no waiting room with a pile of old magazines and a pot of stale coffee at the Department of Public Safety Fleet Services garage in Colchester.
There are just a couple of small offices and a work area crowded with several shiny SUVs waiting to be transformed into state police cruisers.
There are some differences under the hood and they’re painted a familiar green, but at the moment these look like any other vehicles.
“I’ve got to take these panels off to run our wiring for our lights,” mechanic Jesse Ross explains, as he leans through the open hatchback and exposes the wiring.
Ross is one of three mechanics who, along with a supervisor, work in the Colchester shop where all state police vehicles are outfitted.
They install the lights and the prisoner barriers and they wire the vehicles for the radios, computers and cameras that are now standard features.
As fleet administrator, Dave Tifft is in charge of the operation.
“Pretty much what I do for a job is I buy the cars, outfit the cars, maintain the cars and then dispose of the cars,” Tifft explains.
He’s responsible for about 450 vehicles operated by the Department of Public Safety, mostly state police cruisers.
Tifft, a friendly, low-key ex-Marine and Bennington native, has been overseeing the state police fleet for 13 years.
Because of the electronics, it takes about a week to outfit a vehicle – which is much longer than when he started.
“We used to be able to outfit a Crown Victoria in about two days,” he says.
In 2011, Ford stopped making the Crown Victoria, a mainstay of police departments.
Tifft says cruisers stay in service for about four years, until they rack up the equivalent of about 120,000 miles.
The remaining Crown Victorias in the state fleet will age out in the next year or two, replaced mostly by SUVs.
“The vehicles change so much, especially moving from a V-8 Crown Victoria, now we’re into turbocharged 6-cylinder sedans and we have others that are just 6-cylinder SUVs. That SUV has more power than the V-8 Crown Victoria,” he says.
Tifft buys vehicles from local dealerships at a discounted rate. Once they’re fully equipped, the price tag is about $45,000.
Major mechanical work is done at the fleet garage, but routine maintenance is contracted out to local repair shops around the state.
Tifft says manufacturers aren’t producing hybrid pursuit vehicles yet; and the state lacks the infrastructure to support a fleet of cruisers powered by natural gas.
Part of outfitting a new vehicle at the fleet garage is affixing the Vermont State Police decal to the side. The decals are made by state prison inmates.
Four years ago, a trooper washing his car noticed that one of the markings on a cow pictured on the decal had been changed into the shape of a pig.
That little detail had gone unnoticed by Tifft’s crew, so the decals ended up on quite a few cruisers and the story made the national news.
“It was embarrassing for a little bit and then humorous for a little bit,” Tifft recalls.
He says says there’s now more attention paid to what’s on those decals when his crew installs them.
(An earlier version of this story stated cruisers are generally taken out of service when they have the equivalent of 150,000 miles. The actual figure is 120,000 miles.)