The Truth About Cars » police car The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 11:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » police car Cop Drives Classic Cop Car: 1972 Ford Galaxie 500 Sat, 27 Apr 2013 18:05:38 +0000

As the nation’s peacekeepers are learning to live without the venerable Ford Crown Victoria it is also a time to reflect on what police cars were like in the time before the Panther platform debuted in 1978 for the 1979 model year. In 1972, the cruiser of choice for the City of Lexington was the Ford Galaxie 500.

This particular car wears the blue and gold livery of the now defunct City of Lexington Police Department. In 1974 the government of the City of Lexington was merged with the government of Fayette County to create the Lexington- Fayette Urban County Government. All city and county services and departments were merged as well. This car was given as a retirement present to Chief E.C. Hale when he retired on June 1, 1972, which makes for a significantly better retirement present than the cheap gold watch I expect to get.

Chief Hale had served 40 years with the city department and passed away in 1974. The car sat on the street near his home, exposed to both vandals and the elements, for many years before his family returned it to the city. Originally a white unmarked unit, it was restored to patrol duty specifications and is now used for parade duties, although it still retains an official government property number (P# 0462) and its trunk is equipped with the fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and other equipment required by policy.

So what’s it like to drive a police car that’s older than you are? Kind of boring, actually. There’s a myth that runs through our popular culture that police cars, particularly the police cars of yesterday, were fire- breathing muscle cars equipped with “cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks, made before catalytic converters” that could run down the Mustangs, Barracudas, and GTOs stalking the nation’s streets with ease and sound like Death himself was chasing you while they did it.


Like all good myths, the myth of the invincible old police car is rooted in truth. I was once told by a veteran beat cop that back in the old days when you were alone at night in an alley, trying to avoid taking a beating yourself while handing out “wood shampoos” to unruly drunks and screaming for help on one of the original 10- lb Motorola portables that could be counted on to work 25- 30% of the time, you didn’t listen for approaching sirens coming to your aid because the sirens weren’t worth a damn and you couldn’t hear them half of the time anyway. Instead you listened for the roar of the secondaries opening up as your backup thundered down the final straight leading to your last known location. That’s how you knew the cavalry had arrived.

But P#0462 is not one of those mythical cars. 1972 was a rough year, automotively speaking. Newly introduced smog controls were strangling all of the power out of our engines. Of course, power was already down across the board, at least on paper, since the manufacturers had been forced to abandon their wildly optimistic gross horsepower ratings for somewhat more realistic net ratings. Police service vehicles were no exception.

And then, as now, the vast majority of cop cars weren’t sold with the biggest, most aggressive motor. This car left the factory powered by a measly 177 hp 351 Cleveland 2 barrel. 335 lb- ft of torque help offset that number when taking off, but acceleration is still best described as “leisurely.”

You don’t really want much more than leisurely acceleration, however, given the overly assisted power steering. When you read an article about a new car in which the author complains about the steering being “numb,” you have to understand that the author has either forgotten or has never driven a car from the days when power steering was an option on most cars. The goal was to make the steering so effortless as to enable the driver to steer with just a finger, a mission which was accomplished (and then some) in this particular car. The steering wheel feels completely disconnected from the front wheels and spins as freely as the plastic Fisher- Price steering wheel attached to a toddler’s car seat. I couldn’t imagine driving this car in an emergency situation with so little feedback from the road. The modern tires added during the car’s restoration would help, but not enough to overcome the soft suspension and drum brakes.

For non- emergency duties, particularly the parade details it serves in these days, the Galaxie works just fine. Visibility is great, as it is in most old cars, even though a passenger side wing mirror was an option not selected when the car was ordered. Every couple of years during our annual in-service training we go out to the skid pad and practice our low speed precision driving skills. Much of the course is done in reverse, backing down “alleys” and reversing into “driveways” built with orange traffic cones. I would rather perform those backing exercises in this car with only one external mirror than in a new Taurus with a video camera.

There’s plenty of room inside, especially with the bench seat. The car was equipped with air conditioning, which still works. I had assumed that the A/C was ordered on the car because of it’s intended use by the Chief and that the rank and file would have made do without it. I checked with a couple of old guys and was surprised to learn that by the early 70′s we were ordering A/C on all our cars. The optional AM radio in this car was a special feature reserved for commanders and it wasn’t until the end the decade before stereos became common in all of our patrol cars.

As far as emergency equipment goes the Galaxie seems almost naked with only the two rotating blues on the roof compared to the low flying alien spacecraft theme you get from a modern patrol car at night. Since P#0462 was originally an unmarked admin unit, it even lacks a spot light. The old mechanical siren with it’s long, drawn out fade when you turn it off as compared to the instantly silent electric models of today is a hoot to play with in the parking lot of Comm Tech until you start to get dirty looks from the people who are actually at work inside the building.

So what’s the final verdict on this piece of history? I left my drive in P#0462 with a greater appreciation of how difficult street work was back in the day, when your radio only worked half the time and your car handled like a yacht. Just getting to your call was an adventure. We tend to forget just how much basic automotive technology has advanced and what each of those improvements meant. How many accidents, for example, have been avoided by the simple recognition that maybe dialing back in a little resistance into our power steering systems was a good thing because it provides the driver with vital information during emergency maneuvers?

Like most historical artifacts P#0462 is best appreciated through the soft focus haze of nostalgia heavily saturated by myth. It’s most impressive when viewed from behind the cordon as it rolls slowly past you in a parade with blue lights slowly spinning and the low rumble of a V-8 punctuated by whoops and yelps from a siren that slowly fades away. Any modern police car, including the lowliest V-6 powered FWD Taurus, would run rings around this car and any of it’s four- barrel equipped brothers. But the crowds watching from behind the barricades don’t know that and I doubt any of them will look at a 2013 Taurus, Charger, or Caprice forty years from now and speak approvingly and with a touch of envy about how special those cars are with their “cop tires, cop suspension, and cop motor.”

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Cop Drives Cop Car: 2012 Dodge Charger Pursuit Sat, 06 Apr 2013 18:54:55 +0000

My takedown of the Ford Police Interceptor Sedan Taurus generated almost two hundred comments. Having recognized what the people want, I immediately began scheming for rides in the Ford’s two major competitors in order to give it to them. An E-mail, followed by a visit to the municipal sales manager at Lexington’s Freedom Dodge- Chrysler- Jeep- Fiat and I was provided with a 2012 Dodge Charger Pursuit for a weekend evaluation.

Mr. Jim Sawrie is the cop car guy at Freedom Dodge and generally keeps a demonstration unit on hand equipped with a center console, protective barrier, and a lightbar. He stripes his demo cars up in various ways, even aping the decal package Lexington PD uses a couple of years ago. He gave his current model a pretty basic decal job, plain enough that you wouldn’t think it would ever be mistaken for a real police car. So, of course, when I stopped to take photos of the car near downtown Lexington I was approached by a guy who wanted to know which Federal alphabet agency was represented by the acronym DEMO.

“DEMO? Why, that’s the Department of Energy Military Operations Command. The “C” is silent and for your safety and in the interest of National Security, you need to move along…”

I can’t really blame the citizen for his concern. Even in refrigerator white and with minimal markings the Charger screams “Official Government Business” as loudly as the Crown Vic ever did. “Beautiful and intimidating,” was how the supervisor in charge of the fleet of Chargers being run by a neighboring agency described it when I called to get his views on the Dodge’s long term durability.  Compared to the plain- Jane styling of the Caprice and the bulbous, dog-with-it’s-butt-in-the-air look of the Taurus, the Charger’s long, low, and wide profile definitely has the most character.

That exterior design helps make the Charger’s interior a much more comfortable place to get to the business of police work, especially compared to the Taurus. I donned my gunbelt and spent much of a Saturday morning driving around with it on. The center console Mr. Sawrie had chosen to install in the car was fairly wide, starting at 11 inches wide at the base of the center stack and tapering to 9 inches wide by the time it reached the area of the seatbelt buckles. Even with a full gunbelt, I had plenty of room without the console pressing in on me, although a slightly narrower console wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Note to equipment vendors: Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you have to fill it.

The extra space makes entering and exiting the front seats of the car very easy, particularly when doing so quickly. Both the front and rear doors open 90 degrees, further than the doors on a Crown Vic and much further than on the Taurus with it’s nylon retntion strap that retards the opening of the front doors. Getting into the backseat is very tight, particularly for a prisoner with his hands secured behind his back. The Dodge’s low roofline is the main culprit here, particularly the way it slopes sharply back towards the “C” pillar. The routine admonition given to prisoners by cops all over the world to “Watch your head and knees” becomes more meaningful when herding perps in and out of a Charger instead of a Crown Vic. Seriously, jailbirds. Watch your heads.

The interior was quieter than I expected, even at highway speeds when air turbulence around the exterior spotlight mounted on the “A” pillar and around the lightbar tends to create a lot of wind noise in marked police vehicles. I was also surprised by the visibility. I had expected that the Charger’s low slung roofline would create a driving experience similar to that of the Taurus. That wasn’t the case at all. While blindspots still existed, particularly with a protective barrier installed, I never felt closed in and blind the way I did when driving the Taurus. Parallel parking, even without the benefit of a rearview camera, was fine.

Controls for the HVAC and stereo were handled primarily through the Uconnect touchscreen, although there were redundant controls for both mounted below. A USB outlet and auxillary port are standard. I found Uconnect to be easy to learn without resorting to the owner’s manual. The car was equipped with optional Bluetooth and paired quickly and easily with my Samsung phone. An option like Bluetooth is probably not taken up by most departments, but perhaps more of them should consider it. Like it or not, fair or unfair, the simple reality is that the cellphone is a vital tool to most patrol officers and one that will be used while driving. The nature of the job will simply require a certain number of distractions to the driver and any technology that can reduce those should be embraced, even if it costs a bit more per unit.

The car I drove was equipped with the 5.7 L Hemi V-8 and included cylinder deactivation. If anything the cylinder deactivation programming is over- aggressive. It seemed as if everytime I glanced at the instrument cluster, the computer was advising me that I was in ECO mode. The transition between four and eight-cylinder operation was relatively seemless and definitely makes a huge difference in fuel consumption. I averaged 15 mpg over 168 miles of driving. (I simulated the time spent idling in a normal patrol shift by leaving the engine running every time I got out to take photos of the car.)

That’s actually pretty good for a police car, particularly one with the 370 horsepower of the Charger’s Hemi V-8. Put your foot in it and all attempts at ECO management vanish with a roar. Testing by the Michigan State Police recorded a top speed of 152 mph. I believe it. In fact, the Hemi might be too much. Had I been given a Charger instead of a Crown Vic when I first hit the streets at age 22, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here to write these articles today.  For most departments the 292 horsepower 3.7 L V-6 and a top speed of 141 mph would probably be a better choice.

Power is routed to the rear wheels through a 5 speed automatic, which includes Chrysler’s Autostick system. A column mounted gear selection lever is a welcome touch although it makes using Autostick almost impossible. The selection buttons for up and down shifting are mounted on the shift lever, which puts them in an awkward position for use during performance driving. I tried Autostick out on a twisty road near my home and found it nearly impossible to use while maintaining control of the wheel.

Control is definitely something you want to maintain. Overall the Charger is incredibly stable, but the Hemi will sneak up on you. The Crown Vic doesn’t particularly like to be hustled through the curves and responds with a certain amount of float and instability. Consequently you’re more aware of your speed as you approach corners in a Crown Vic.

The Charger hugs the road much better and builds your confidence until you glance down at the digital speedo readout as you enter a curve and HOLY CRAP THAT’S TOO FAST! I can report that the brakes  and the traction control work very well and kept me from having to have any awkward conversations with Bertel and Mr. Sawrie.

At least the bill wouldn’t have been too high. Fleet price for a Hemi powered Charger Pursuit starts at $23,585. For reference the most comparable civilian trim level, the Charger R/T, has a base MSRP of $29,995. For the budget minded municipal fleet manager, the V-6 powered Charger Pursuit starts at $21,949, undercutting the price of the cheapest Ford by $790.

Cheap is not usually considered a compliment and Dodge has a reputation, probably undeserved, for poor quality. My own agency’s experiences with Pentastar products has been negative. We were all issued Fords when I started in 1997, but the last of the old Diplomats had only been retired a couple of years before. No one I know who had the misfortune to have been issued one has anything good to say about them. When the previous generation of police Chargers hit the streets in 2006, we actually bought a few of them for use by detectives. Three out of eight developed transmission problems in the first two years of service.

Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial

With that track record in mind, I called a nearby agecy that has switched exclusively to Chargers and asked how their cars have held up. The sergeant in charge of the fleet, Mister “beautiful and intimidating,” reported that their experience has generally been positive. One unit had gone through three motor mounts in six months, but my source felt that was more an issue of operator error than a failure of the car. Front ends tend to need replacing around 75,000 miles. Unlike Lexington’s experience he’d only had to have two transmissions rebuilt and both of those were in cars that had done over 120,000 miles. He only had one of the new generation of Charger in his fleet, but it seemed to be holding up as well or better than the older cars.

His major complaint was that the Chargers cost more to repair than the Crown Vics did. That’s probably going to be a complaint with all of the new generation cop cars, however. The second-best thing about the Crown Vic, after it’s size, was it’s simplicity. In a fleet maintenance situation simplicity usually equates to “cheap to fix.”  All of the new models are significantly more complex.

Still, Dodge’s quality problems seemed to have mostly been resolved, at least in my source’s experience. The testimony of one fleet manager may not be evidence of a turnaround in and of itself, but it appears that the Charger has made significant inroads into the police market in Central Kentucky.

The introduction of the first generation of Charger was the first real challenge to Ford’s domination of the police market in a decade. The second generation appears to be better than the first, while still undercutting the price of the Taurus. I concluded my review of the Taurus by noting that the competition was nipping at Ford’s heels. I was wrong. With the new Charger, Dodge has passed them.

Freedom Dodge of Lexington, KY provided the vehicle and one tank of gas for this review.

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Historic Police Car Spotted Responding to call on the Not-So-Mean Streets of Seattle Thu, 04 Apr 2013 19:51:59 +0000

An alert REDDIT reader (manuelv 19) spotted the Seattle Police Museum’s 1970 Plymouth Satellite patrol car responding to calls on the coffee scented streets of dowtown Seattle earlier this week. According to the Seattle Police Museum website, only 53 Special Order Police Satellites were produced in 1970 and 21 of those were purchased by the Seattle Police Department. The cars were mid-size police vehicles and featured the 383 Super Commando engine package complete with 4 bbl carburetors. They were reputed top be quite fast at the time.

This particular vehicle, known as Unit #521, was wrecked with only 9000 miles on the clock and sold at public auction eventually ending up in Los Angeles. The Seattle Police Museum located and purchased the vehicle in 2006 and spent a year returning the car to its former glory. More information on this vehicle is available at the Seattle Police Museum website of by calling (206) 748-9991.

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Businesses Band Together To Donate $8 Million Worth Of Vehicles For Detroit Tue, 26 Mar 2013 13:35:59 +0000

Over 100 emergency vehicles will hit Detroit’s streets in the next few months, including 23 ambulances and more than 100 police cruisiers, thanks to a coalition of private sector donors that pitched in for the vehicles.

The Detroit Free Press reports that companies like Penske, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Quicken Loans, the Kresge Foundation, and Platinum Equity all chipped in to help buy the new vehicles for the city. The Big Three automakers also lent a hand, providing Ford Taurus, Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Caprice police vehicles.

Interestingly, the city will not be the official owners of the vehicles, nor will they be responsible for their maintenance. None other than Roger Penske said that the vehicles would be outfitted with “top of the line” equipment and would be ready for duty in the next few months.

Detroit is now essentially controlled by state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder asked him to help step in and manage Detroit’s finances. Orr previously worked on the 2009 Chrysler bankruptcy.

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Chevrolet To Get New NASCAR Entrant – And All New Product For Showrooms Wed, 14 Mar 2012 15:15:25 +0000

The Chevrolet Caprice might be second to the Toyota FT-86 in the sheer volume of rumors surrounding when and where it will go on sale. The rear-drive, 6.0L V8 powered Caprice is currently sold only to fleet customers, but the “detective’s cars” sold as unmarked units look suspiciously like civilian-ready full size sedans.

Chevrolet announced that their Impala, set to be redesigned in 2014, would be replaced on the NASCAR circuit by an all-new model that would also be sold in showrooms. Chevrolet said they’ll unveil the new model later this year, with a 2013 debut in showrooms. The Impala is out, and it would be too early for Chevrolet to produce the Code concept, and the “Gen Y” positioning would be all wrong for NASCAR.

The Caprice makes a lot of sense; rear-drive, V8, great nameplate (even though the Caprice was never in the upper echelon of the muscle car hierarchy) and already approved for sale here in the USA. But the specter of rising gas prices, CAFE regulations and Murphy’s Law makes me wonder whether this is all too good to be true, and if a small-block V8 powered performance sedan is really what GM wants to launch in this kind of economic and political climate.

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The Last Muscle-Car War: Detroit Battles For Cop-Car Supremacy Sat, 24 Sep 2011 18:23:55 +0000

Last fall, the first tests of the new Chevy Caprice PPV, Dodge Charger Pursuit and Ford Taurus Interceptor generated quite a bit of interest here at TTAC and beyond, as three all-new contestants battled to replace the outgoing Crown Victoria as America’s cop car. At the time, the Caprice seemed like the clear performance favorite, but as Sajeev Mehta has pointed out, there’s more to the cop-car equation than pure speed. Although good luck trying to tell the Detroit Three that, as all three are cherry-picking performance stats in the wake of the latest round of Michigan State Police testing.

  • Chrysler arguably has the biggest performance win to brag about, noting that the “fastest-ever lap time at Grattan Raceway [1:33.70] highlights Dodge Charger Pursuit V-8 as the police sedan with the best combination of acceleration, braking, handling and dynamics.” The V8 Dodge also recorded the fastest 0-60 and 0-100 times of the trio, thanks to an optional acceleration-biased 3.06 rear axle ratio and a revised engine management system that allows top speeds of up to 151 MPH (all new for 2012, along with upgraded brakes). For the record, that 1:33:70 time is exactly three seconds faster than the Charger’s best lap time last year.
  • After “creaming” the competition last fall, it seems GM was caught a bit flat-footed by Mopars upgrades, and its press release makes no mention of its lap time (its best lap time last year was a 1:35:80). Instead The General brags about the Caprice’s leading top speed (154 MPH) and 60-0 braking (125.8 ft). And despite last year’s “LS-X FTW” talk, the Caprice V6 turns out to be the most impressive model, beating both the Charger V6 and the Taurus non-Turbo V6 in 60-0 mph braking, top speed and acceleration.
  • As predicted last year by Sajeev, Ford’s Taurus appears to be something of a performance back-marker. Ford’s presser doesn’t mention a single performance statistic, instead seeming to coast on the Panther-Interceptor’s coattails with bullet points like “Now police departments and other law enforcement agencies can get an all-new, American-made vehicle with the expected durability and price of the popular Crown Victoria.” Ford’s only performance argument is that the Taurus Ecoboost outperforms the Crown Vic… a stunningly low bar to set (even the Impala 3.6 hits a higher top speed than the EcoBoost Interceptor).

But, as we’ve pointed out, efficiency and reliability are for more important for police fleet buyers than outright performance. If Ford can make good on the promise that it will match the Crown Vic’s durability, and can prove that its Ecoboost engine will reliably offer better efficiency than the Dodge and Chevy V8s, it might make an argument for itself. But in a world where police departments are actually hoarding Crown Vics, there’s always going to be resistance to ditching the rear-drive V8 model for the perceived complexity of AWD and a turbocharged V6.

But because the performance differences between the Chevy and the Dodge are relatively small and because performance isn’t the overriding concern for police fleet buyers, Dodge’s lap record at MSP testing may be the most significant achievement in this year’s MSP testing, for reasons that have nothing to do with prospective police sales. With the Crown Vic gone and the competition for the definitive police vehicle thrown wide open, these annual Michigan State Police tests are beginning to take on the feel of a classic Detroit proxy war, not unlike the illegal drag racing that took place on Woodward Avenue at the height of the muscle car era. And because Dodge offers high-performance versions of its Charger to the general public, its ability to beat back the Australian-built, unobtainable-to-civilians Caprice could give it something of a halo to enthusiasts. Even Ford, which sells a Taurus SHO that’s not entirely unlike the new Interceptor, can leverage police performance testing results into a brand halo. Only GM, which stubbornly refuses to offer the Caprice as a civilian model, seems to be oblivious to the civilian-market implications of what is rapidly becoming an annual Detroit showdown.

With racing becoming increasingly detached from the vehicles available for sale to the general public, police performance testing is one of the last factory-backed competitions between cars that are available for sale to the general public. In short, it’s the kind of spectacle that drove the muscle car era… and have since disappeared. As the brand that’s most dependent on continued sales of V8-powered, large  rear-drive sedans, it’s no wonder Dodge upgraded its Charger in order to come away with a narrow win this year. Maybe next year Chevy should hit back… and then capitalize on the rivalry by making a Caprice available to civilians.

The Michigan State Police have not yet released full test results for 2012 model-year vehicles. TTAC will post these results as soon as they become available. Past test results can be found here

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Ask The Best & Brightest: How Fast Should A Cop Car Be? Tue, 26 Oct 2010 15:00:24 +0000

So there I was, minding my own business, driving down the road, enjoying the new Isobel Campbell record and relaxing in the right lane, when I saw two Crown Vics from the local sheriff’s department running up hard behind me, lights, sirens, the whole deal. I moved halfway onto the shoulder to let them by, and then, motivated by nothing more than a love of mayhem, decided to follow them for a while.

The two sheriffs were pushing up to as much as ninety miles per hour in-between clumps of stopped traffic. I loafed along behind them at a distance that allowed those drivers to get started again before I went by. I never went as fast as the cops did, but I never went as slow as they did, either. Over the course of about eight miles, I watched them repeatedly come to screeching brake-and-swerve stops before picking their way through the cars, almost always in a manner that indicated they weren’t looking any further ahead than a few car lengths. Twice the second cop nearly, er, buttslammed the first, usually while applying some pretty heavy-duty steering input in concert with full ABS.

By the time the twin Vics screamed off onto a side road, tossing dirt and rocks in their wake, I was of the opinion that these “trained” drivers would have been out of their depths in NASA’s HPDE 1 group. They repeatedly endangered their own lives and the lives of others… and when I say that, you know some serious idiocy is going down, right? They were unable to separate their turn-and-stop motions. They ran too closely, which adversely affected their ability to make intelligent choices in traffic and dramatically increased the likelihood that they would strike either an innocent bystander or each other.

Perhaps the most damning statement I can make about their ability was that I had no trouble keeping up with them, and I never found myself coming close to other cars or experiencing the sky-high closing speeds they were creating. By running without lights and just working steadily through traffic at 70 mph or so, they would have made better time than they did by gas-and-braking their way down the road. Given a day or two at BeaveRun’s Vehicle Dynamics Facility, I could have completely straightened those two cops out… but I’m no more likely to assist the police than my personal hero, Professor Griff, would be. I’m here to fight the power, yo.

I did find myself thinking that it was a good thing these cops didn’t have any more horsepower than they did. Equipped with HEMI Chargers or Caprice PPVs, these cops would have been hitting 110 or 120 between the gaps. Somebody could have been badly injured.

We already accept, as a society, the idea that it’s better to restrict the capability of machines than to properly train their operators. (See: speed limits, gun control, the OSHA.) What if we simply extended this idea to include law enforcement? In other words, what if we slowed down the cops to protect the innocent? What say you?

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