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Police defend size, scope of police car fleet

Police defend size, scope of police car fleet

An arresting debate

March 31st, 2013 in News

An officer in a Chevy Tahoe pulls out of the Jefferson City Police station on McCarty Street. The Jefferson City Police Department is in the processes of trading out Ford Crown Victorias for Chevrolet Tahoes in a cost-saving measure and so officers have plenty of room for themselves and their gear.

Photo by Julie Smith

The Jefferson City Police Department is dealing with cuts to overtime in efforts to help make up a citywide $1.68 million budget shortfall, but some community members would rather see the department cut the number and size of the department's cars.

During the budget discussions, the Jefferson City Council approved a $161,000 expenditure to this year's city budget for the police department to purchase six new vehicles.

On March 18, the City Council approved $1.68 million in cuts to cover an unexpected budget shortfall that was revealed late last month. The largest cuts hit the streets division within the public works department, where more than $478,000 is being cut, mostly from street chemicals and street materials.

Nearly all city departments, including the Police Department, saw cuts in their budgets. For the police department, about $121,000 was cut, largely from overtime. Previously, Police Chief Roger Schroeder had said the overtime cuts will be managed by using compensatory time.

But the department also received $161,000 for the purchase of six new vehicles, which has reignited a community debate over the size and scope of the police department's fleet.

Police department's fleet

City officials said the money for replacing police department vehicles varies every year depending on how much is available in the budget. In 2011, the department moved to the Chevy Tahoe from the Ford Crown Victoria after Ford discontinued making the Crown Vic. The Tahoes were purchased based on an open bid process that eventually was awarded to Riley Chevrolet in Jefferson City for both the 2011 and 2012 models. The cost of the 2012 Tahoe was $27,459, which was the base price.

The cost of the Ford Crown Victoria in 2010, the last year the department purchased them, was $27,463 from Joe Machens Ford in Jefferson City, which was then doing business as Mike Kehoe Ford.

The police department has 62 vehicles in its fleet:

• 36 marked vehicles, which includes patrol, motorcycles, traffic unit, the community action team, K-9 unit and school resource officers.

• 26 unmarked vehicles, which includes five for animal control when they were placed under the police department. The remaining vehicles are assigned to investigations, patrol lieutenants, tactical response, administration, evidence, the community action team and the community services unit.

Seventy officers are assigned to the 36 marked vehicles and share those 36 cars. Of those, the two motorcycles are not assigned, but are used by traffic officers primarily in enforcement efforts and during special events by motorcyclequalified officers.

Fleet replacement

Capt. Doug Shoemaker, police department spokesman, said the department does not have a program to replace vehicles every so many miles.

"While in the past it was on a set rotation of every three years for mandatory replacement of all fleet vehicles, this has not been the case for the past three to four years due to budget restrictions," he said.

Shoemaker also said the department developed a plan to increase its fleet from 27 to 34 marked vehicles and increase the turnover from three years of rotation to four to five years, depending on service, mileage, repairs, etc.

When asked why the fleet has grown, Shoemaker said, "The fleet was already increased last year to add vehicles to deal with continued budget drops long term, in other words, the three-year rotation that we were previously able to maintain due to the mileage and maintenance costs is no longer viable due to lack of funding within the fleet purchase budget.

"So a plan was created to extend the life of the fleet long term by extending that existing rotation of three years to a four- to seven-year rotation. While the additional cost to purchase the vehicles up front was minimal, we didn't sell some of the older vehicles that normally would have been replaced by the new purchases. They were reassigned to school resource officers and the amount to purchase marked vehicles did not change because we did not appropriate any additional funds for normal fleet rotation purposes."

Shoemaker said the department did purchase two used Missouri Highway Patrol vehicles with around 50,000 miles in order to save money on new purchases.

"These two vehicles are assigned to patrol lieutenants and will be subject to a longer rotation by necessity," he said.

Is the fleet too big?

Some members of the public have argued officers should use police vehicles while on their shift, then return them to the fleet for the next shift. That, they say, would require fewer vehicles and result in a cost savings to taxpayers.

But Shoemaker disagrees.

"If utilized on a 24-houra-day, constant-use cycle, the replacement cycle and maintenance costs would require us to return to a maximum of a three-year rotation, whereas we are now able to institute a 4-to 7-year rotation by adding to the fleet as we did last year," he said. "Keep in mind we are still attempting to make up for budget shortfalls from several years past and still have in operation vehicles from 2005. The fleet budget, as shown in the city budget, has been reduced over the past several years."

Fast vs. roomy

When it comes to looking at how they perform in pursuits, Shoemaker said most pursuitrated vehicles are relatively close.

"Very rarely do we have extensive high-speed pursuits, but the vehicles in question must be pursuit-rated and safe at those high speeds," he said. "Non-pursuitrated vehicles are not an option for police service."

The amount of equipment that an officer has in his vehicle has also increased in the past few years, and Shoemaker said that was another factor in what vehicles they chose.

"Our officers spend 10 hours a day working in a police car, and we need to have them in vehicles that give them room to work with their mobile data terminals, video cameras and radar equipment," he said.

How about gas mileage?

When comparing gas mileage, Shoemaker said, the Tahoes (11.35 mpg) edged out the Crown Victorias (11.15 mpg). Shoemaker said the Tahoes are flex-fuel compatable, although the city doesn't currently use the E-85 flex fuel.

"This should dispel the "gas guzzler' perception," he said.

JC police car budget

The totals spent by the Jefferson City Police Department on police vehicles:

Year / Amount

2008 $213,541

2009 $134,910

2010 $384,482

2011 $344,364

2012 $271,100

Accompanying photo: JCPD Chevy Tahoe

Accompanying photo: Officer Brian Festog inside Chevy Tahoe

Accompanying photo: Officer Bill Plate inside Crown Victoria