Note: This story originally was posted March 15, 2009.
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When Rosalyn Veal drives her white 2003 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor down North Main Street, other cars move over.
With tinted windows and a spotlight on the driver’s side, people think it’s an unmarked patrol car.
"They’ll be switching lanes, all nervous," she said. "The car’s like a magnet for attention."
Veal, 27, is among a growing number of young people in the Midlands driving retired police cars.
And for them, it’s all about feeling powerful.
"Crowns," as they’re called, have become so popular the state can auction them for twice the amount they sold for a year ago, officials said.
In north Columbia, Mounir Tazir opened Freedom Car Sales 11 months ago to sell only Crown Victorias last used by law enforcement.
He’s sold more than 100 at his shop on North Main Street, mostly to young black men.
"They like the fact that it was a police car," Tazir said. "They enjoy that feeling of driving a police vehicle, and the cars are powerful."
Cars on his lot the past several weeks once were used by the Columbia Police Department, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the S.C. Highway Patrol, the State Law Enforcement Division and other agencies.
He buys them at government auctions after they’re stripped of police decals and equipment.
The spotlights - a popular item among customers - remain on the cars, Tazir said.
The cars sell on average for $4,000, and most have been driven between 90,000 and 150,000 miles.
Each receives a fresh coat of paint. Most have markers that identify them as the "Police Interceptor" edition - the law-enforcement version of the Crown Victoria.
If those markers have fallen off or have been removed, Tazir can buy them.
Sometimes Tazir must buy the cars out of state because of the demand. "Every time I bring them in, they go," he said.
Christopher Johnson, 22, owns a cream-colored 1999 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor and tricked it out with 22-inch rims.
Johnson occasionally flashes the spotlight when he drives through his Washington Park neighborhood off Shop Road.
"I use it messing with some of the females out here," he said. "I be flashing the light on them: 'Come here. Come here.’"
The lure of the cars starts with power, and they’re affordable, fast and easy to customize. But the significance runs deeper for some.
The trend was popularized in the Southeast by drug dealers who wanted to sit in the front seat of a police cruiser instead of the back.
"They wanna get their cars just to say, 'Well, I used to be in the back seat. Now I’m in the front seat,’" said 18-year-old Saerah Ferguson of Columbia, who owns a white 1997 Ford Crown Vic former police cruiser.
Ferguson thinks police will be less likely to pull her over.
"They really don’t look at me like that," she said. "They see a car like that - they think it’s one of theirs."
Seventeen-year-old Keisha Sumter, a junior at Eau Claire High, drives a faded blue 1997 Ford Crown Vic police car because it’s "fashionable."
But some drive them to intimidate, she said. "They wanna look like police," she said. "They wanna scare people."
Antwain Johnson, 28, who was polishing his white 2000 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor recently on Marshall Street, was drawn to its speed.
"Whenever I put on the gas, it ain’t let me down yet," he said. "It always responds."
A.V. Strong, founder of Project Gang Out, a nonprofit that helps people get out of gangs, said he knows many current gang members who drive the cars.
"I think they’re dissing the police, to be honest with you," Strong said. "Showing police, 'We can drive what you drive.’"
Some think it’s just the opposite, said 43-year-old Marvin Williams, a former Department of Mental Health police officer.
"It’s showing respect for the police officer," he said. "Not saying, 'Oh, I can ride in a car like you can.’ None of the brothers I know think like that."
The cars haven’t created recent problems for state troopers, Department of Public Safety spokesman Sid Gaulden said.
"We haven’t had any complaints or any cautions about the use of Crown Victorias," he said.
While some owners said they receive extra scrutiny from police, Gaulden said they’ll only receive attention if they’re breaking the law.
Richland County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Chris Cowan has no idea why they’re popular among the younger generation.
"It’s pure speculation as to what the mindset is that somebody would want to drive a vehicle like that," Cowan said.
Sales of Crown Victorias retired from the state fleet netted about $1 million for the 2007-08 fiscal year, said Tom Hornsby, surplus property manager at the S.C. Surplus Property Office in West Columbia.
"It’s really starting to hit its apex right now," he said.
The office sells the cars a number of ways, including at auctions twice a month and online at sites such as eBay and govdeals.com, he said.
When a law enforcement agency uses the office to sell the car, the agency receives 90 percent of the proceeds.
Anyone can buy them. Most want them because they can buy one for between $3,000 and $4,000 and customize it for a couple of thousand more, Hornsby said.
"It’s a good custom car platform for cheap money," he said.
The engines don’t have the power they once had because of wear and tear, he said.
"Catching one on the interstate is not going to be an issue," he said. "They are well-maintained for a fleet vehicle, that’s correct. But they are driven hard."
Billy Dickerson, 65, of Lexington County, recently bought an ex-Highway Patrol car for his 15-yearold grandson.
Dickerson remembers years ago in West Columbia when he drove an old Crown Victoria police car.
"A lot of times, you’d come through the community and people start walking away thinking it’s a police car," he said. "I just laughed."