There was a brief moment of silence while the five-man team at West Chatham Warning Devices in Evans sized up their next task: a brand-new Dodge Charger for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
The Charger was one of 30 the sheriff’s office ordered in March to replace the aging Ford Crown Victorias.
Though the purchase includes the price of equipment – $28,860 for the patrol package and $29,134 for the traffic package – the cars don’t arrive pre-assembled. When they’re delivered to Richmond County Fleet Management’s Broad Street shop, they look no different than a civilian car before receiving window tint and decals.
The cars then make the 10-mile trip to the Columbia County shop with Sgt. Charles Mitchell at the wheel, who drops off a Crown Victoria at Fleet Management each time he picks up a new Charger.
With each of the five men at different posts around the new car, the team begins to dismantle it with surgical precision.
“Everybody has a section of the car that they work on,” shop manager Tim West said. “That’s the way we do it. Everybody has their place, and when they get done, they’ll go on to start the next step on the next vehicle.”
Toward the front of the car, one worker removed the grille and bumper before disconnecting the headlights. At the rear, another worker tore the lining out of the trunk. Inside, two workers removed the rubber lining protecting the floor before tossing the rear seat aside.
The rear door panels were next to go, which are replaced by a solid sheet of metal beneath the sturdy metal bars that protect the windows from being kicked out.
West took a drill bit to the roof, and within an hour, the Charger was completely stripped.
Workers kept their pace, dashing to all corners of the small shop and returning with new equipment to be installed.
Amid rows of steel cages and stacks of LED light bars, they had everything needed to build the car to the specs of the sheriff’s office.
“This equipment may go through three cars,” West said as a light bar was being mounted to the roof. “It depends on the equipment because everyone uses something a little different, but it will absolutely save thousands of dollars. And Richmond County will do that. They’re into saving money.”
The Chargers take about 40 man hours from the teardown to the finished product, West said.
The Patrol Division will be issued 23 cars once they are completed, Mitchell said. The Traffic Division has already received five cars, which carry a higher price tag because they’re equipped with more lights for greater visibility, Lt. Ramone Lamkin said.
The Crime Suppression Unit will receive two unmarked cars this week.
“A Richmond County (Sheriff’s Office) build is very elaborate,” West said. “They get all the security stuff. From the window (bars) to the back seat to keep suspects from hiding contraband or guns and knives.”
After the plastic seat is anchored into place, a heavy metal partition is installed behind the front seats. Attached to the front is a shotgun mount with an electric lock.
LED lights are affixed inside the headlight housing, which can be activated with a flip of a switch next to the driver’s right hand. The new siren mounts to a metal plate just behind the grille, which can be activated
by the Charger’s stock horn button.
Only after being thoroughly washed and vacuumed will the Charger be brought back to the Daniel Village substation to be assigned.
The only missing component is the $4,300 Panasonic CF-31 Toughbook, which will sit on a stand attached to the center console. The computers are purchased through the state’s contracted vendor using grant money, RF Administrator Steve Smead said.
“They’re built to military specs,” he said. “They definitely exceed anything that you’ll see at Best Buy. The computers are outlasting the technology.”
Lamkin called the new patrol cars “rolling offices.”
“You can do all of your reports on the computer,” he said. “You don’t have to go back to the (substation) and type for an hour or two doing reports. But once you get back to the sub, you’re out of service. Now you can do the report and still be visible to the public at the same time. Technology is a lot more aggressive now.”
Stepping away from the vehicle, West took the time to appreciate the completion of another job.
“It’s rewarding to me when you get a car and there’s nothing to it – just a plain vehicle,” he said. “Then you take it apart and start putting it back together. Once it comes together, it’s real rewarding to sit there at the end and just see what you’ve done.”