Taurus: No bull on the streets

April 27, 1994

An agency that already has more than enough problems caused by bad management has created another one for itself. The Baltimore Police Department's purchase of those baby-blue Ford Taurus patrol cars two years ago, touted as a step into the future, has proved to be a $2 million fiasco. The mid-sized cars are unsuited to the rigors of patrol work and are breaking down far more often than the older, bigger Chevrolet Caprice cars which had been the department's mainstay.

The idea was to get more for the money. In fact the department got less, in terms of cars on the street at any given time.

There appears to be plenty of fault to pass around. Mid-sized, front-wheel-drive cars make excellent transportation for civilians. In 1992 the Taurus was well on its way to becoming the country's most popular family car. But it was untested as a police vehicle, and there was plenty of evidence from other police agencies that this type of car doesn't stand up to the aggressive use police officers necessarily give their vehicles.

That evidence was not heeded in Baltimore's police headquarters. City taxpayers have a right to know why not.

However frivolous it may now seem, then-Commissioner Edward V. Woods liked the idea of the more gently shaped car with the light blue paint. It fit his concept of community policing, which was Mr. Woods' panacea in the face of horrendous violence on the city's streets. The department tries to replace about a fourth of its roughly 400 cars each year. Because of the city's financial straits, the department did not have enough money to buy a full complement of full-size cars in 1992. So it picked the cheaper Taurus in order to acquire more.

Some of Ford's disclaimer of responsibility strikes us as a bit disingenuous. The "police package" added to the standard Taurus was intended for commanders and detectives, not patrol work, the company says. Well, it might have occurred to someone out in Dearborn that 150 cars is quite a lot just for commanders and detectives of a middle-sized police department. Not to mention equipping them with special tires for high-speed chases, not a common activity for commanders and detectives.

Still, the decision to buy the cars was made here, not in Dearborn. It was another management blunder in an era marked by bad decisions on Fayette Street. Those Chevy Caprices may look like tanks in a time of downsizing automobiles, but tanks seem to be appropriate equipment in the urban warfare that torments large areas of Baltimore.

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