Victoria Police are about to roll out the first of the Ford Rangers that are due to replace the current fleet of Holden Colorado utes. 

The Ford Ranger has earned its police stripes in Victoria and will replace the current fleet of Holden Colorado utes – at a rate of 200 vehicles per year, as each example comes up for retirement.

A third-party supplier has developed a new prisoner module to be fitted to the back of two-door space cab and four-door crew cab vehicles, and Ford says it has tested the new set-up at its engineering centre near Geelong.

The changing of the guard means police in Victoria join their counterparts in NSW, who have used a mix of Ford Ranger and Holden Colorado utes as general duties vehicles for at least the past five years.

Ford Ranger to replace Holden Colorado on Victoria Police general duties fleet

Other states such as Queensland use Isuzu D-Max utes as general duties “caged truck” vehicles to convey prisoners, while officers in the Northern Territory and West Australia use Toyota HiLux utes for the same purpose.

Despite their popularity, high-riding double cab utes have had a pot-holed history as police vehicles – especially as they began to replace car-derived utes based on the Holden Commodore, which handled more like a sedan (pictured below).

A decade ago double cab utes used as police vehicles were over-represented in rollover crashes because of their high centre of gravity, the weight of the prisoner capsule, and the unsuitability of off-road or all-terrain tyres during “urgent duty” driving.

2009 Victoria Police Divisional Van

Over the past decade or so, however, double cab utes have gradually become equipped with stability control systems designed to prevent rollovers in sudden swerve manoeuvres.

Frontline police in NSW are divided over the use of double-cab utes for general duties police work, with many officers arguing that high-riding double-cab utes should only be used as caged trucks in remote and regional areas where a four-wheel-drive is a necessity.

General duties NSW police officers, speaking to CarAdvice on condition of anonymity, say double cab utes are not suitable for city and suburban police work – even when there are restrictions on the type and frequency of “urgent duty” driving in such vehicles.

Ford Ranger to replace Holden Colorado on Victoria Police general duties fleet

Above: A Holden Colorado ute ready to hit the streets as a police vehicle in Victoria in 2018. Photo by Jason South (The Age).

“The problem is, we’re putting our youngest and least experienced police officers in vehicles which are arguably the biggest handful to drive safely and quickly in emergency situations,” said one veteran NSW officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because police are not permitted to comment publicly on such matters.

“General duties police should primarily be in sedans to respond to urgent jobs, and the sergeants and other high-ranking officers should roll up to a job afterwards in a caged vehicle. The problem is, the older more senior cops don’t want to drive a caged van or a truck (double-cab ute). They want to cruise around in a sedan.”

Ford Ranger to replace Holden Colorado on Victoria Police general duties fleet

General duties police in most states in Australia have a mix of sedans, SUVs, utes and vans; the latter two types of vehicles are usually equipped with prisoner cells.

“We need caged vehicles to lock people up after a brawl or a violent domestic, but in most cases these vehicles could turn up to a job soon after frontline police have gotten there more safely and more quickly in a sedan, like they do in Europe and the US,” said the NSW police officer. “Police shouldn’t be rushing to potentially life-threatening situations in a ute or a van.”

The number of rollovers involving police utes have dropped dramatically over the past decade, as the vehicles have gained stability control systems and stricter conditions are placed on their use when responding to urgent jobs.

Ford Ranger to replace Holden Colorado on Victoria Police general duties fleet

Above: The Colorado ute is about to be replaced as a police vehicle in Victoria following the demise of Holden at the end of 2020. Photo by Jason South (The Age).

Nevertheless, double-cab utes are still more prone to rollover crashes (versus sedans) due to their high-riding suspension, off-road tyres, and tall centre of gravity.

In an attempt to address those concerns, Ford Australia says Ranger utes equipped with the prisoner module (developed by a third-party supplier) were tested extensively Ford engineers.

Ford says the Ford Ranger used by police has an “impressive ride height (237 mm of ground clearance) for improved visibility”.

Ford Ranger to replace Holden Colorado on Victoria Police general duties fleet

However, Ford says, all Rangers used by police will have key safety features such as autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, six airbags, and a five-star safety rating from 2015.

“This combination provides Victoria Police with a stable and safe vehicle with which to patrol Victorian streets,” said a statement from Ford Australia.

The rear prisoner module is air-conditioned and can accomodate two people. A video camera allows officers to record and monitor those in custody.

Ford Ranger to replace Holden Colorado on Victoria Police general duties fleet

The prisoner modules used on the Holden Colorado (above and below) have been redesigned to suit the Ford Ranger.

The new prisoner modules are manufactured by Centaur, have a planned operational life of 10 years, and will be fitted to successive Ford Ranger police vehicles over the next decade.

It’s unclear, however, whether the new modules will fit the next-generation Ford Ranger due early next year.

Ford says its special vehicles engineering team conducted climate testing to assess the effectiveness of the prisoner module’s auxiliary air-conditioning system.

Ford Ranger to replace Holden Colorado on Victoria Police general duties fleet

Further, extensive electrical work was carried out to “provide optimal connectivity for Victoria Police’s operational equipment mounted where the rear seats … would typically be”.

“Once the design work was complete, Ford’s (special vehicle engineering team) subjected the new divisional vans to physical testing at its You Yangs proving ground near Geelong to ensure it was fit for purpose, including both brake and handling tests,” said a statement from Ford Australia.

“Our relationship with Victoria Police stretches all the way back to the 1959 Ford Mainline divisional van, and Ford Australia is honoured to have been selected by Victoria Police to supply its new fleet of divisional vans,” said Simone Crankshaw, Ford’s special vehicle engineering supervisor, in a media statement.

“Design and development of the Ford Ranger is led in Australia, and this Ford Ranger-based divisional van offers Victoria Police high levels of active and passive safety and the peace of mind that it can handle whatever is thrown at it.”

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2009 Victoria Police Divisional Van

Above: The way it used to be. Victoria Police caged vehicles were previously based on the Commodore ute and had car-like handling.