Sydney's criminals could soon be travelling in luxury. NSW police are evaluating the Mercedes-Benz Vito van among other vehicles as a possible replacement for the fleet of 300 Holden Rodeo utilities.
The $40,000 Mercedes (pictured) has been modified to carry up to four officers and four offenders. It is on trial for three weeks in Auburn and other suburbs where police are looking to replace the Rodeo with the slower, purpose-built van for general duties and prisoner transport.
Police Holden Rodeos were given more power in February 1998 – when they switched from four-cylinder to V6 engines – and a spate of crashes followed. The Rodeos were banned in April 2000 from taking part in pursuits or urgent-duty driving except in life-threatening situations.
Because of manufacturing requirements at Holden's Japanese factory, Rodeos with the bigger V6 engine had to be equipped with taller, 4WD suspension. However, this, combined with the cage fitted to the rear of the utility, adversely affected the Rodeo's stability.
At the time the V6 Rodeos
were introduced, a general duties constable said: "At 140kmh they feel like a Manly ferry: they're all over the place. They've given us more power, but at the same time given us a higher centre of gravity."
A police source said yesterday: "There's nothing wrong with the standard Rodeo, but we had concerns about its stability with police cages fitted on the back."
Holden and Ford sedans used by police are fitted with sports suspension and special brakes; the Rodeo is basically a commercial vehicle fitted with a cage for prisoner transport. The police Rodeos also lack anti-lock brakes and airbags.
NSW police are also evaluating five Holden sedans equipped with a so-called safety cell, a screen behind the front seats similar to those used in taxis. The rear cushion is replaced by a plastic seat that can be hosed out and makes it difficult for prisoners to secrete contraband.
Sedans fitted with safety cells are also expected to free up police time because officers will no longer need to wait up to an hour for a caged truck to transport a prisoner. It would allow them to process offenders and get back on the road more quickly.