The Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal Police Department upgraded its fleet with new Dodge Ram 1500s.

When the last Ford Crown Victoria rolled off the assembly line in 2011, many police departments were left wondering what their fleets would look like as they replaced worn-out patrol cars. They had depended heavily on the roominess, durability and speed of the four-door sedans for decades.

The law enforcement favorite largely comprised CPN’s fleet and finding an adequate substitute has been a challenge.

Ford produced a direct answer to the Crown Vic that did not meet expectations, and Tribal police also purchased special Ford-produced SUV packages a few years ago in an attempt to appropriately customize its fleet.

“They’re just not holding up. The quality of the cars isn’t there,” said Maj. Jody Opela. “Every time we turn around, there’s a recall.”

CPN police took a completely different approach last year.

“We started looking along the lines of a little bit more heavy-duty, and (Pottawatomie) County got their fleet of Dodge pickups,” Opela said. “I really started closely monitoring how their vehicles were holding up, and they seemed to be faring very well.”

The CPN Police Department purchased nine Dodge Ram 1500s through a grant last spring. Brian Scott is the grant coordinator for the department. He applied for a Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation grant through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office.

The process is long and detail oriented.

“A lot of bouncing back and forth. A couple of meetings to figure out what we were going to ask for with police command staff, and then it was coordinating with (the office of) self-governance,” Scott said. “Writing narratives, proofreading — a lot of proofreading.”

Overall, it took three months.

CPN was awarded the grant, and almost five months went by after the trucks were purchased before they arrived in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

“They had to be built because everything was sold off,” Opela said. “There weren’t any sitting on the ground anymore, so we had to wait for ours to actually roll out of the factory.”

Each truck cost about $40,000, totaling $360,000 for all nine. They came fully equipped, “including a dashcam system, emergency lights and radios in the vehicle. We got brush guards on them. I mean, they’re nice trucks,” Scott said.

The vehicles also have upgraded alternators to be able to run the extra equipment, remote start, an upgraded engine and new audio and video equipment to record officer interactions.

“The pickups work out very well. You have got a whole lot of room,” Opela said. “Pickups in general are built heavier than a car, so they’ll last longer.

“The thing about the Dodges versus any other vehicle out there, the beds actually have these side boxes” in addition to the truck bed, Opela said. “We’ve gained a lot of our storage back that we lost from the Crown Vics to the SUVs.”

The trucks have increased the department’s presence in its 900-square-mile area.

“The other consideration is the fact that so much of the area that we patrol is rural,” Scott said. “Having four-wheel drive trucks allows us to go in a lot of places that the patrol cars are not capable of going. … There are still some places that these trucks are able to go that those SUVs are not.”

Tribal officers can patrol Tribal river bottomland more easily.

“They’re actually able to drive down in there instead of having to park at the top of the hill and get a long way away from their vehicle,” Opela said.

Scott specifically wrote the grant for the new trucks to go to patrol officers where they could do the most good, and so far, Opela has gotten nothing but positive feedback.

“Everybody driving them loves them,” he said. “A lot of the officers that had high-mileage cars actually stepped into a new vehicle.”

The CPN Police Department has had the trucks for several months, and is excited and appreciative of the purchase.

“It really wouldn’t be fair to not credit the incredibly hardworking people in the office of self-governance as well,” Scott said. “We wouldn’t be able to even come close to operating at the level that we operate on without assistance from the Department of Justice, from specifically the COPS office. They are an integral partner to our operations.”

The Tribal police department plans to replace vehicles with the trucks as it becomes necessary.