Baltimore police to drive smaller cars


Faced with a 7.9 percent increase in traffic accidents, the Baltimore Police Department is abandoning its big-engined, full-size cars in favor of smaller vehicles with less pep.

The city plans to purchase 400 six-cylinder Ford Tauruses over the next two years to replace an aging fleet that includes Chevrolet Caprices with eight-cylinder engines.

Ninety new cars that will be delivered to the department over the next two weeks will be equally distributed among the city's nine police districts, Sam Ringgold, the city police spokesman, said.

Mr. Ringgold declined to reveal how much city taxpayers will pay for the new fleet. The city and state are jointly purchasing Tauruses, a move that will result in a per-car discount for both governments because of the volume of the sale, Mr. Ringgold said.

In 1991, the city Police Department recorded 627 crashes involving officers or fleet vehicles -- a 7.9 percent increase -- 46 more crashes -- over the 1990 total of 581.

Last year, a relatively large number of preventable accidents occurred among young officers with little time on the police force.

Of the 232 preventable accidents recorded last year, 112 involved officers between the ages of 21 and 26. Officers with six months to three years of experience were responsible for 129 preventable crashes -- more than half the total, according to Police Department statistics.

A Police Department report gave the following scenario for a typical crash:

"The operator will be between 21 and 26 years of age, with three years or less of police experience. The weather will be clear, and the roadway will be dry. The operator will be on routine patrol at the time of the accident, with no emergency equipment activated. The accident most likely will occur within the confines of an intersection or the operator will strike a fixed object."

One police official, who requested anonymity, said many of the accidents were "ridiculous."

"Some of them lost control just turning the corner," the official said. "They were used to driving small foreign cars. They couldn't handle these big cars."

Deputy Police Commissioner Michael Zotos also attributed the problem to the relative inexperience of the drivers and the fact that some of them had never "driven a big car before."

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