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The force is with them

Carmakers in hot pursuit of contracts with police departments.

Fleet sales are an important part of U.S. automakers' bottom lines, and none have more cachet or higher visibility than a contract with a law enforcement agency.

Being chosen by a high-profile police department is a badge of honor - and an advertising boost.

"This is absolutely a good marketing opportunity for us," said Jonathan Honeycutt, marketing manager for Ford's police vehicles. "This is a division we want to be in."

In 2014, Honeycutt said, Ford sold law enforcement agencies about 20,000 units of its Interceptor Utility and 10,000 police-issue Taurus full-size sedans.

Ford would not say how much it charges, but the California Highway Patrol paid just under $30,000 for each of the 1,024 Interceptors it bought over the last three years, CHP Capt. Steve Mills said.

Dodge was similarly hesitant to disclose prices on its popular police vehicles. But the company does claim to build the country's best-selling police sedan, having sold more than 10,000 units of its Charger Pursuit in 2014.

Bick Pratt, head of government fleet sales for Dodge, credits the law enforcement accounts with raising awareness of its muscular cars.

"You hate to see a Charger Pursuit grille in your rearview mirror," Pratt said. "But we think there's a lot of carryover in terms of the macho appeal of the vehicle."

The Dodge Charger is the second-most-popular sedan Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sells. Ford's Explorer, on which the Interceptor Utility is based, is one of the most popular SUVs on the market.

Those vehicles, along with Ford's Taurus and Chevrolet's Caprice and Impala sedans, are the leading choices for agencies signing contracts for law enforcement vehicles.

The Interceptor Utility is a beefed-up Explorer, while the Dodge Charger Pursuit is based on the refreshed 2015 Charger that is rolling into dealerships. On the road, both police-issue models handle and accelerate eagerly, partly the result of upgrades that fortify them for police duties.

Both the Interceptor and the Charger Pursuit are equipped with radiator and engine and transmission oil coolers designed to withstand long high-speed chases. The heavy-duty brakes are built to withstand high heat. The suspension is reinforced and stiffened for better handling.

The Dodge is outfitted with a fan in the trunk, to cool the vehicle's electronic equipment. It also comes with a self-leveling rear suspension and enough clearance to chase drivers across highway medians.

The Ford has been tested for 75-m.p.h. rear-impact crashes, a much higher threshold than production cars. The front doors are bulletproof and can withstand shots from a high-powered rifle.

In addition to mechanical upgrades, the Dodge and the Ford both carry considerable specialized gear, which drives the total cost of the police vehicles to about double manufacturers' sticker prices.

The typical CHP cruiser, Mills said, costs just over $40,000. That price doesn't include an additional $24,000 for a specialized communication system that since the terrorist attacks in September 2001 has been recommended by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security for all police vehicles.

The system adds 250 pounds to the total weight of the vehicle. That's one reason police have abandoned the popular Ford Crown Victoria, which is not capable of carrying the additional weight.