The Meridian Police Department received 25 new patrol cars this week — cars paid for with more than $500,000 in seized drug money.

Lt. Dean Harper, police spokesman, said the 2006 Ford Crown Victorias will be added to the department's current fleet. He said some patrol cars will be retired and replaced with the new cars.

"These cars also will be used in the department's new take-home policy for officers that live inside the city limits to be used as a crime deterrent," Harper said. "Adding cars to the fleet also will increase the life of the cars."

Sixteen of the cars are currently being stored at Meridian Aviation on Highway 11 South, seven are at the city's maintenance barn getting detailed, one is ready to roll and one is at SMI Automotive on Eighth Street.

Joe Johnson, owner of SMI, and his staff are equipping the cars with sirens, lights, consoles, cameras and other electronics.

Johnson said SMI won a bid to do the work for the police department. He said the plan is to complete two or three cars each week.

While it is hard to get an accurate count of how much money the city's Interstate Crime Enforcement, or ICE, unit has seized over the past few years, Harper said more than $1 million was seized last year.

Seized funds can be awarded to law enforcement entities that make the seizures, but the money can only be used to purchase equipment, not to pay salaries. Harper said in addition to cash, the interstate team also has seized cars, weapons and stolen property.

Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun, spokesman for the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department, said the county also recently received 15 new 2006 Ford Crown Victorias and one GMC Yukon purchased with seized funds. Calhoun said the vehicles cost about $300,000.

Through the state's forfeiture laws, Calhoun said, the department is able to keep money seized by its Interstate Crime Enforcement unit and make purchases it otherwise could not afford.

"There was no money in the county's budget to update our patrol fleet," Calhoun said. "But by using seized funds, the department is able to lessen the burden on taxpayers and is able to better equip, train, serve and protect our community."

Calhoun said the new fleet will replace the county's existing fleet, whose typical vehicle is more than four years old and has more than 130,000 miles. He said most agencies replace their vehicles at 100,000 miles.

He said the cars are currently being stored at an undisclosed location and should be ready for duty within a month.

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