PARIS – After being the Oxford County sheriff for less than a month, Wayne Gallant is looking into some significant changes.

He hopes to replace the deputies’ Ford Crown Victorias with 4-wheel-drive sport utility vehicles and wants to replace loaded shotguns with nonlethal weapons.

One reason the department purchased the standard passenger car was because of its speed, Gallant said Monday. However, the department rarely is engaged in high-speed chases anymore. Technology allows deputies to call ahead to set up roadblocks.

“We need to meet everyday needs, not once-a-year needs,” Gallant said.

Police cruisers are often required to travel rural dirt roads, some of which can be difficult to navigate in the standard cruiser, Gallant said. With SUVs, the Sheriff’s Office can do regular patrols around camps.

Gallant said SUVs once were not practical because of their low gas mileage and cost. This has since improved, he said, and now the SUVs may save the department in gas costs.

“Some calls take us to real remote areas, looking for accident victims or suicide victims,” Gallant said.

The Sheriff’s Office has 17 Crown Victorias, one for each deputy. Five cruisers will be retired this year, and Gallant is taking bids for five SUVs to replace them. Vehicles are replaced on a regular basis.

Old vehicles are traded in to the dealers, Gallant said, and usually get good trade-in values because they are well maintained.

Gallant said he is also looking to replace some weapons.

“The better equipment we use, the more efficient of an agency we’ll be,” he said.

He said he will replace deadly slugs for the shotguns with bean bags. He is also looking into purchasing Tasers.

The Tasers would be effective for corrections officers transporting prisoners, Gallant said.

“Not only does it keep our transfer deputy safe, it keeps our prisoners safe,” Gallant said. It also is a “means to prevent escapes.”

Deputies carry night sticks, Mace and a handgun on their belts. They keep rifles and shotguns in their cruisers.

“We’d be eliminating shotguns and just using them for bean bags,” Gallant said.

Some area municipal police agencies have made similar changes. The Norway Police Department has an SUV cruiser. Chief Robert Federico was not available for comment.

The Maine State Police has not moved to SUVs, but do have a couple 4-wheel-drive pickup trucks, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said.

Standard cruisers have been in use since 1935, McCausland said.

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