City police sport new cars for visual impact Mustangs are meant to deliver message on traffic enforcement

June 29, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Like most people, Mark Carter doesn't like getting pulled over by police. So he was not exactly happy when he got caught speeding down Russell Street, clocked at 22 mph over the 35-mph limit.

But Carter and his red Buick are now part of Baltimore history. At 11: 34 a.m. Friday, the 45-year-old Northeast Baltimore man became the first person stopped by a city officer driving a new, sporty Ford Mustang dressed up as a cruiser.

"I just put a down payment on a Mustang myself," a bemused Carter told Officer Brian S. Weber, who let him off with a warning. "I'm going to get rid of this Buick."

Carter said he saw Weber's white Mustang on a gas station parking lot but didn't recognize it as a police cruiser until it was too late. "I wasn't sure what it was," he said. "I wasn't paying any attention to my speed."

Baltimore police plan to formally unveil 10 new Mustangs today, one for each police district and another for the traffic unit. All are marked as "traffic enforcement" and come with the police insignia and stripes, along with other comforts, such as cup holders and a built-in compact-disc player.

Though the cars look speedy, they actually have smaller engines and are more sluggish than the department's 431 patrol cars -- a mix of Ford Crown Victorias and Chevrolet Caprices. The Mustangs are designed to stand out, as much a public relations tool as for enforcement.

"Let people see it," said Weber, more used to driving one of the department's Harley-Davidson motorcycles. "We don't chase people here, and this is just another tool that we have."

Added his boss, Lt. Carl Gutberlet: "The Mustangs are a visual reminder to the motoring public we are taking vehicular laws seriously."

Police hope the mere sight of the sporty-looking cruisers will instill a bit of fear in Baltimore drivers, known for their propensity for running red lights.

Ford Motor Co. does not include the Mustang in its standard police package because its engine and light suspension can't maintain continuous driving or handle high-speed pursuits.

Only 75 Mustangs have been turned into police cruisers nationwide, most of them by Texas State Police, said Pat Howe, a sales manager for Ford Motor Co. "It's not that they are fast, nimble or quick," he said. "The image is what they are."

The Mustangs join a diverse fleet of Baltimore police vehicles that include dirt bikes, Geo Trackers, Winnebagos, helicopters and boats, along with 60 vans, 22 motorcycles and eight buses. Each Mustang costs $15,607.38, cheaper than the $20,626 for a Crown Victoria.

If the department's goal is for the new cruisers to stand out, then it got its wish Friday, when the first one hit the streets for actual police work.

Many people did double takes as Weber cruised downtown streets during the lunch hour. Joyce Richardson excitedly approached the officer after he had stopped a car at East Pratt and South Charles streets.

"I love it," the Bell Atlantic worker exclaimed. "I saw it and said, 'Oh my goodness, it's a police car.' I've never seen anything like that with a police officer in the driver's seat."

Twenty minutes after Carter was pulled over, Weber stopped a white GMC Jimmy, clocked at 55 mph on Russell Street.

Roosevelt Spann Jr., 29, wasn't as lucky as Carter. He got a $135 ticket, becoming the first citizen to get a citation from an officer in a Mustang. "Oh wonderful," Spann, of West Baltimore, said when told of his feat.

The difference between Carter's warning and Spann's ticket is called "officer's discretion."

Just before noon, Weber parked at East Pratt Street and Market Place to catch red-light runners. A few minutes later, a blue van sped through the intersection, its front wheels several feet shy of the cross walk when the yellow caution light turned red.

The driver, Carlos Cardoza, 24, of Cockeysville, pulled over almost before Weber could activate his siren. He admitted running the light and accepted his ticket and $120 fine. But he offered an unusual excuse. He said he was staring at the Mustang.

"My friend said, 'Check that car out,' and I did," Cardoza told Weber. "Then he said, 'Hey, dude, you blew that light.' That car messed me up. It's the car's fault."

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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