The Washington post of the Georgia State Patrol has a stealthy new tool with which to patrol its five-county area.

Trooper First Class T.D. Webb took delivery last week of one of GSP's new Dodge Charger patrol vehicles, and he's seen quite a reaction from citizens who are used to seeing troopers in their distinctive gray-and-blue Ford Crown Victorias.

"With the low profilelights and solid gray color, it's a little sneaky," Webb said. "Drivers look real hard, and are a little surprised when they realize who I am. The car is a little intimidating."

The new Charger is equipped with the latest in lightbar technology that eliminates the distinctive roof light bar. Blue lights are located at the top of the windshield, inside the grille, on the side mirrors, and below the bumper.

A brightly lit sign in the windshield says "State Patrol" in reverse, so that drivers at night can tell that the vehicle in their mirror is a legitimate GSP vehicle.

Although the look is subtle, the new Chargers aren't unmarked. The standard orange "GEORGIA STATE PATROL" is emblazoned on the side and on the front fenders.

A large heavy-duty brush guard surrounding the front allows troopers to bring chases to a end using the PIT maneuver without damaging their vehicles.

The four-door Charger is larger inside than the Ford it replaces, Webb said. "It's more comfortable, and the door openings are larger so it's easier to get in and out, especially if you're six-foot-eight like me."

And, although troopers don't make a big deal out of it, the new Charger is equipped with a 340-horsepower Hemi V-8, making them significantlyquicker than the old Fords, able to reach pursuit speeds from a stop several seconds sooner. The Hemi-powered Charger has a top speed of 155, some 25 mph faster than the Ford.

"That's what they say," Webb said. "I haven't done anywhere near that. Yet."

Each trooper who gets a new Charger will return to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsythe to learn the limits of the new vehicle in a controlled environment.

Troopers around the state have been getting the new Chargers since last year, and testing the car for some time before that. "Troopers across the state tested the Dodge and offered their input before the decision was made to purchase the vehicle," DPS Commissioner Colonel Bill Hitchens said. "We wanted to make sure the vehicle was suited for our needs while patrolling and it met that challenge."

The new Chargers should provide greater control and safety with an electronic stability program, traction control and a four-wheel anti-lock brakes. The longer wheelbase on the Charger provides for a more secure and balanced ride with better stability, troopers say.

"Safety is the number one concern anytime you consider a vehicle for law enforcement use," Colonel Hitchens said. "The Dodge Charger features enhanced safety and crash protection technology that are vital to our troopers' safety."

The new Charger costs slightly less than the Ford Crown Victoria that comprises the majority of the GSP fleet. Plans are to purchase additional Dodge Chargers in the coming year.

Are the other troopers a little envious of Webb's new ride? "Oh yeah, we sure are," said Trooper First Class Brent Marxsen, "but we'll get ours soon."