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[whitespace] Sheriff's deputies slip into a new Camaro to keep up with speeders

Saratoga--Residents better be on the lookout. Sheriff's deputies have recently started to patrol from a faster, less conspicuous car--a Chevy Camaro.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Westside Substation acquired a Camaro about three weeks ago and is equipping another one.

The two-door Camaro is a departure from the Crown Victorias and Chevy Impalas--both which are four-door sedans--that the substation bought in the past. Although the four-door sedans are better cars overall for patrol, the Camaro "gives a good, positive image that the sheriff's office is serious about traffic enforcement," said Sgt. Ted Atlas.

According to Atlas, Camaros, Crown Victorias and Chevy Impalas are the only cars on the market for traffic patrol. Unlike the Crown Victorias and Impalas, which law enforcement agencies also use for beat patrol, agencies can only use Camaros for traffic patrol because the back seats don't have enough leg room for most arrestees.

But the Camaro has its advantages. Because they are faster than Crown Victorias and Impalas, they can overtake speeders in less time. Drivers will think twice before trying to outrun Camaros, whereas they wouldn't with Crown Victorias or Impalas, Atlas said.

The Camaro has also turned the heads of both residents and other law enforcement officers. According to Atlas, when a substation deputy who'd been driving around in the Camaro was issuing a ticket, the man asked if he could look at the car. After he looked at it, he asked the deputy if the Sheriff's Department was hiring.

Department officials hope the Camaro will serve as a good recruiting tool for officers and other potential officers as well, since the department is always competing with other law enforcement agencies to hire more workers.

Although the Camaro has the four items it's required to have by law--a solid red light on the front; a siren; white doors; and doors that are distinctively marked as belonging to the sheriff's office--it doesn't have lights on its roof. To some, it may look too much like a normal car. Atlas said that on one street-racing group's website, it says, "Here's what's scary--a white Camaro cop with the reds and blues in the back window. I would never suspect a Camaro on the freeway behind me to be a cop."

Department officials are thinking of budgeting two more Camaros for the next fiscal year, so that they'd have four by the end of the calendar year. But first, they want to see how things go with the ones they have now, Atlas said.

The substation has about 30 Crown Victoria patrol cars; one Crown Victoria traffic car; four Chevy Tahoe four-wheel-drives--two which are outfitted for canine cops--for the Santa Cruz Mountain beat; Ford Expeditions for the sergeants; the two Camaros; and six motorcycles.
Rebecca Ray

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