Iowa Police Sell Miniature Replicas of Cruisers in Fund-Raising Campaign

By Jeff Reinitz, The Associated Press

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) - Collectors are excited over the new line of Waterloo Police Department squad cars rolling off the assembly line.

The department's union, the Waterloo Police Protective Association, is offering miniature die-cast replicas of the black-and-white Ford Crown Victorias as part of a fund-raising campaign.

The 1:43 scale cars produced by GearBox Toys & Collectibles are the first large-scale offering of WPD replicas.

"We have moved a few," said Greg Geisler, owner of Advantage Die-cast & Collectibles on Jefferson Street, which sells the Waterloo squad cars.

"We got them right up there next to the NASCAR die-cast cars, and it catches a lot of people's attention," he said.

Proceeds from the sales will go toward equipment at Hoing-Rice Softball Complex, named after two city officers slain while on duty in 1981, and for expenses for an upcoming convention, said Randy Hammitt, president of the Waterloo Police Protective Association.

GearBox, which is based in Cedar Rapids and designs collectibles for agencies all over the nation, made a limited run of 1,000 Waterloo cars.

The miniature squad cars come complete with hoods and doors that open and wheels that roll and steer. Waterloo's trademark red griffin even adorns the front doors.

The boxes are sequentially numbered for collectors.

Aside from Advantage Die-cast & Collectibles, the cars are available at the police station during normal business hours.

"A lot of police officers and retirees collect them," Hammitt said. He said a few hundred of the Waterloo cars have been sold so far.

Before GearBox put out its WPD line, other collectors, including some Waterloo officers, created their own replicas in various sizes.

They used die-cast white Crown Victorias and added custom decals and light bars to get the Waterloo Police Department look. Some occasionally are available on Web sites like eBay.

Steve Hancock and his 13-year-old son have an extensive collection of die-cast police vehicles.

Hancock, who is retired and living in Illinois, served on the Waterloo Police Department until 1983 when he joined the FBI. Every place the bureau stationed Hancock, he picked up a miniature of the local police department's patrol car.

Hancock has a Waterloo replica of WPD's 1990s design with the gold-and-red stripes but not one with the new black-and-white color scheme.

"I'm probably going to have to get one of those, I guess," Hancock said.

Police replicas are big business for GearBox, which is a division of Big Wheel manufacturer Alpha International Inc. The company started off producing law enforcement miniatures to sell to the general public but found a niche in small quantity custom jobs for individual police and sheriff's departments.

Now, about 90 percent of Gearbox's business is custom work, said Michael Fleckenstein, the company's art director.

"They are all typically for fund-raising events," Fleckenstein said. "It's nice to hear the stories about what they do with them."

Some agencies use the cars to boost funds for their canine units or DARE drug education programs.

The Gurnee, Ill., police department used them to raise money for a statue that was placed in front of its station, he said.

Others order them to commemorate department's anniversaries, honor officers killed in the line of duty or to hand out to children they meet while responding to crimes or disasters.

The Iowa State Patrol replica shows the No. 40 on its license plate in memory of the badge number of the first state trooper to be killed in the line of duty.

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