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story and photos by John Brennan
The National Police Parade on Aquidneck Island is held each year in Rhode Island to honor police officers killed in the line of duty. The event draws officers from all over the country; other groups participate as well, to give a nice, well-rounded, traditional parade.
As a police parade, this is a family-oriented event that offers very little rowdiness and mayhem. It starts in Middletown and follows West Main Road and Broadway to end in Newport. Both communities are on Aquidneck Island, giving the parade its name.
Now in its 12th year, the 2008 parade kicked off on May 4 to beautiful weather.
I had but one goal in mind —to catch a glimpse of the classic Mopar police cruisers that made up the parade. It was not disappointing. The parade was filled with new and old cruisers with many antique and classic police cruisers that came from all over the country. It brought me back to a day when Chrysler dominated the police cruiser market. Perhaps it was the decision to relinquish the cruiser market to Chevrolet (and, later, Ford) that most crippled Chrysler’s PR efforts— and perhaps it is the re-emergence of Chrysler in the cruiser market that will help as well.
The best muscle cars out there are the old police cruisers. It was Dan Akroyd as Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers who showed off, and helped popularize, the old Mopar police cruiser. In the original Blues Brothers, if you remember, the Bluesmobile was a 1974 Dodge Monaco with a 440 Magnum.
Thanks to the original Bluesmobile and to the powerful engineering of those muscle car police cruisers, one of the highest complements you can pay your classic car is, “It’s an old cop car.” Yeah, we all want one. I want one, too. (I couldn’t afford to gas it up, either.)
The Police Parade was a great opportunity to watch all of those great classics drive by, carefully restored in immaculate condition. It brought back the days when Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler dominated the market in police cars. An impressive array of these classic Mopars appeared in the parade, pictured here.
Since the 1990s, however, the Ford Crown Victoria has been the main police cruiser (along with a few Chevy Impalas.) Several old Crown Victorias were featured, though the design is not drastically different in twenty years. Some would say that a good design stands the test of time. Others will point out that Ford is slipping and police departments are eager for change as soon as good alternatives are available.
The 2008 Police Parade offered a fine example of a good alternative that is now available to police departments — the Dodge Charger. Upgrades to the Charger police cruiser for 2008 have made it increasingly popular among police departments. With a Hemi under the hood, the new Charger is impressive on the road. Recent improvements are making it more popular with officers and police departments around the country.
One oft overlooked aspect of a police car is appearance. The psychological effects of being chased by an impressive vehicle may well deter many criminals from running. If you look in the rearview and those lights are flashing above an imposing Charger grill, you may be more likely to realize the folly of running. It also works as great PR for departments. The Charger attracts attention, whether on a passenger car or a police cruiser. This gets people talking to the officers that drive them. That positive interaction can only help police departments, whether state, rural or metropolitan.
I look at the Charger police cruisers and I see the much needed replacement for the tired Ford. Bold, impressive and ultimately economical, it is a beautiful police car. In time, I think we’ll once again be proud to say of our old Charger, “It’s an old cop car.” If the police parade is any indication, they are gaining in popularity very quickly among police departments- and the RI State Police Dodge Charger won the award for Best Squad Car in the 2008 Police Parade- with good reason.
No parade of squad cars would be complete without what was once America’s Police Car, with over 80% of the market — despite competition from both Chevy and Ford. The Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury maintained a stunning market share through 1989, when, due largely to an almost complete lack of civilian sales, they were dropped; most police departments then moved on to the sturdy Chevrolet Caprice and Malibu, available in convenient boxy or later jelly-bean varieties.
Back in the day, most police cars were “full size,” with relatively few compacts; the Valiant squad packages found few buyers, and only after the Volare found a second life as the Diplomat/Gran Fury did compacts really catch on. By then, what had been called compacts were the largest cars available.
The full-sized Plymouth Fury was a very popular squad car, both before and after its 1970s downsizing. The following is an excellent example of the breed, a 1970s Plymouth Fury from the days when it was full sized (C-body).
The Gran Fury started out as a higher trim level of the Fury, but after the downsizing was the only Fury model to remain a C-body; others moved to the mid-sized B platform. Two fine examples of the breed, from different years, were at the parade. The white one with 1776 decorations appears to be owned by the State Police.
The Dodge Royal Monaco was also a moderately popular police car, though the trim level was relatively high for a squad (as was the Gran Fury).
More info: National Police Parade on Aquidneck Island
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