MYRTLE BEACH, SC – Despite the current decline of gas prices, Myrtle Beach police officials are saving money in case gas prices return to last summer's $4 and $5 per gallon highs, according to

City officials recently purchased 22 new vehicles; 11 of them are smaller, 6-cylinder vehicles as a part of their routine fleet maintenance to replace larger, 8-cylinder Crown Victorias. It was the first mass purchase of smaller vehicles for police officials, Lt. Doug Furlong said.

The purchase included a Ford Fusion for the chief, five Ford Taurus vehicles for detectives and administrative staffers, three Ford Escapes for administrative staff, and two Ford Explorers, Furlong said.

The other 11 vehicles purchased were new Crown Victorias for patrol officers to replace older cars on the fleet.

Myrtle Beach officials are not the only ones replacing larger vehicles. Other departments in the area have already downsized their non-essential patrol vehicles to smaller, lighter cars and sport utility vehicles that get better gas mileage.

In North Myrtle Beach, officials transitioned their police detective division to drive the Ford Taurus, which is more economical than the larger patrol cars, said Nicole Aiello, the city's public information officer.

Horry County officials also went to smaller vehicles by switching to Chevrolet Impalas about four years ago, Horry County's spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said. Detectives and administrative officers use the Impalas, while patrol officers continue to drive Crown Victorias and Chevrolet Caprices. Other departments, such as the county's code enforcement, motor pool and Treasurer's office, also use the Ford Taurus, she said.

Though lighter vehicles are now being used for some day-to-day operations, "Crown Vics continue to be used due to equipment space requirements for patrolmen and call response officers," Bourcier said.

Horry County officials began purchasing the Taurus vehicles in 1997. Prior to the Taurus, non-essential employees would drive used police cars, Bourcier said.

"The chief, in trying to address the fluctuation of gas prices, looked at alternative vehicles and how some V-6 power could be implemented into our police fleet," Furlong said. "We fully believe we will see a notable difference in gas mileage."

Officials can count money saved on the sticker prices of the new vehicles, Furlong said. A Crown Victoria typically costs about $22,500, while the Taurus costs about $20,500, the Escape costs $19,500 and the Explorers cost $19,000 each, he said.

Myrtle Beach police also did not renew their lease program with Harley-Davidson for their motorcycle fleet when it ended, but instead purchased eight police Hondas, which are more nimble, according to Furlong.

He said it is too early to calculate exactly how much of a cost savings the changes will result in.