Date:

February 22, 1999

Subject:

Police Unit Take Home Program

Purpose of Report:

Provide information about Police Unit Take Home Programs

Background:

A request was made by members of the City Commission that Staff provide information on Police take home units. The following information is based on interviews with administrators of police departments with such programs, and includes information relative to our own department experience and fleet.

Advantages to take home police units

Operation costs per unit: While the number of cars operated by a department increases with the implementation of a take-home program, the cost of operation per unit, per mile decreases. Each car is driven fewer miles during a given period. Also, less wear and tear will be noticed as only one person operates each unit, instead of three or more. Hours of per-unit patrol operation are decreased from 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, to 4 10 hour shifts per week. Accountability for damage and possible abuse becomes easier, as does the ability to reward those individuals that take exceptional care of their equipment. Most departments that have implemented such a program report the useful lifetime of each car has been extended by several thousand miles, and 3-5 years.

Take home programs require less frequent vehicle equipment installations and removals as opposed to pool units, resulting in savings annually. It costs approximately $1,000 a unit in labor to transfer equipment from one car to another.

Routine maintenance of take home units is taken care of on the officer's day off. Currently, we spend a great deal of man hours shuffling cars from place to place for repair and maintenance. This is typically done by on duty officers, whose time could be better utilized. We often run short on units due to cars being in the shop.

Officer presence, visibility: Take home programs result in more police units being driven on the streets as officers go to and from work, or other approved activity. Citizens will see a more visible police presence. So will potential offenders, offering a deterrent effect. Even an unattended unit parked in a lot or driveway has the effect of police presence. As our shifts are scheduled relevant to rush hours and other peak activity, the influx of patrol cars coming and going would envelope these peak times. Citizens in cities with this program report that they like the presence of police cars in their neighborhoods. This could also have an impact on problems such as recent complaints about speeding in residential areas.

Officer response to emergencies: In a situation that requires a large number of officers to respond, this program offers perhaps it's most valuable asset. Currently when we have a major event, officers drive their personal cars to City Hall, where they gather equipment, and are briefed. This creates a loss of valuable time, and is worsened as units already busy and needed in the field are called to the police department to transport officers to assignments, due to a lack of available units. Criminal Investigators currently must come to the department to pick up a unit and crime scene equipment before responding to major crime scenes, losing potentially valuable time. Take home cars allow for patrol officers, criminal investigators, and command staff to respond where needed, when needed. By having the cars equipped with appropriate tools, the officers arrive prepared for the task they face. In thankfully rare situations, such as a tornado or other major disaster, the department could activate all sworn officers in a relatively short time, and send officers directly to assignment upon notification.

Increased public/officer safety, morale, arrests: Officers operating police units on duty or off would be required to render aid to motorists and others in need of assistance, enhancing that element of service to the community.

Likewise, since officers would be required to take action upon witnessing a violation, arrests would increase. When operating a police vehicle, it is required that radio and other communications equipment be in operation, so Command staff and supervisory personnel would be more aware of activity in the city, and often would be immediately available, without having to be paged.

In critical situations, while the nearest on-duty unit may be across town, an off-duty officer may be just around the corner from an emergency call for service, or another officer needing assistance. This cuts down on response time during a critical incident, and lessens the risk of accidents, as officers attempt to get across town to assist citizens, or another officer in trouble. In high risk situations, the quicker back-up arrives on the scene, the less likely a suspect will resist or assault a single officer or another citizen. Often times, just the sight of a 2nd officer on the scene causes a suspect to reconsider such action. In situations where a subject does attack another person or officer, two officers can handle the situation with less likelihood of injury, or less severe injury, to those involved.

As mentioned earlier, it is our current policy to, "drop off," officers at assignments when we are short on units. This occurs during occasions as routine as major sporting events, and during major flooding, etc. Due to the lack of available units officers work traffic control assignments in darkness and in all weather conditions, with little or no visible warning to approaching motorists. Some officers, especially in emergency situations, when transportation may not be available in a timely manner, report to assignments in their personal vehicles, creating a potential liability issue. By having a police unit on the scene, officer safety is enhanced by warning lights which alert approaching drivers to the situation before driving upon the officer, who may otherwise be visible only by a flashlight or reflective vest.

Cities that utilize this program report a higher level of officer morale. Most report that officers wash and wax the cars, and do other minor repairs and maintenance at home, on their own time. Strict policies regarding the use of these vehicles are a matter of routine within these programs. The policies vary greatly from department to department. Some departments allow use of the units for off-duty personal business to further enhance police visibility, while others allow use of the vehicles only to and from work, or for job related activities such as training and court. In the event such a program was initiated, Staff would write policies in accordance with community expectations.

Drawbacks to the program

Initial Capital Expense: The major disadvantage to implementing such a program is the initial capital outlay. The below estimated costs are based on the current bid for police units effective 11-16-98, from the local vendor, Owen Thomas Ford. Also included is the cost of equipping the units. Using today's costs, completely equipped, ready to roll police vehicle costs look something like this:

  1. Patrol unit: $38,665.60
  2. Unmarked unit: $30,890.60

These costs include items such as radar units, lap top computers, video cameras in marked units, and other equipment as needed to equip a unit and officer for particular assignments. We have found that, like cars, the laptop computers are showing need of repair and replacement at a faster rate than anticipated due to multiple users, and being transferred from car to car and person to person. These figures assume a desire to equip officers completely.

If it were to be the desire to fully implement such a plan in one year, the following vehicles would be required:

  1. 22 @ $38,665.60= $850,643.20
  2. 9 @ $30,890.60= $278,015.40

$1,128,658.60

This figure is assuming we keep all current vehicles in the fleet, and add those needed to implement the program. Due to the magnitude of implementing such a program, a 10% contingency to allow for unanticipated increase in parts, materials, and labor related to preparing the units for use would be worthy of consideration.

The need for pool cars would be lessened, but we would perhaps need to maintain a few unmarked for civilian staff use, and some marked pool units would be required for use by motorcycle officers during bad weather conditions, or when an officer's assigned patrol unit is in need of major repair.

This approach would provide the department with take home cars for all sworn officers, and allows for two marked pool cars for use by the motor officers when the cycles cannot be used, and for use by other officers when their assigned units are out of service. Without a history of experience, it is not known if two marked pool cars would be enough to prevent officers from having to use other cars. Also, this amount would not provide unmarked cars for use by civilian employees conducting in-town City business, but staff officers' cars could be used for that purpose. Without unmarked pool cars, reimbursement for use of civilian employees' private vehicles for out of town training would be required.

Consideration should be given to the fact that as sworn personnel are added to the department, either because of annexation, or for other reasons, in order to keep the program intact, additional units would need to be added also. Related to that issue, the department is studying the possibility that one or more additional 4X4 vehicles may need to be added to the fleet, due to the nature of some of the area under consideration for annexation. Prices for these vehicles are in the $28,000 dollar range, plus equipment.

Increase in OVERALL fleet operation expense: While the operating cost per mile decreases with a take home program, as does overall mileage per unit, the overall fleet expenses will increase, due simply to the number of vehicles in operation. There will be some increase in overall fleet mileage due to the vehicles being operated by off-duty officers during permitted activities. Permitted activities would be addressed in policy.

Increased Overtime Expenses: Because officers will change from off-duty status to duty status upon responding to an emergency situation, motorist assist, or traffic stop, overtime hours would increase.

 

Discussion:

Administrators interviewed indicate they expect 100,000 miles, or 6 to 8 years of service from vehicles assigned to only one person.

Assuming we can extend the life of the cars by three years, considering the current allotment of $245,502 (21.7% of the estimated cost to fully implement the program) budgeted this year for replacement of police units, $736,506 of the required amount to implement the program would be recovered over the course of the first 3 years. If the life of the cars was to be extended by 5 years as some departments have experienced, $1,227,510 would be recovered. While it is not known that the 5 year extension is realistic, particularly for patrol cars, a three year extension seems probable, and a 5 year extension of administrative vehicles appears plausible. These figures do not take into account the overall increase in fleet operation expenses due to the added number of cars being operated.

Implementation of a take home program does not end the need to maintain or replace units. Although current fleet units would be placed into the program, they already have a considerable number of multi-user miles, and may become more expensive to maintain, even as a take home unit. Several factors determine when any given vehicle may need to be replaced. Number of operators, number and nature of miles driven, accidents, and age all contribute to higher operation costs. When these costs become too high, and downtime on the unit becomes excessive, replacement should be considered. It is likely in 2-3 years we would need to begin replacing units at about the current rate of 5 - 6 per year.

Failure to replace units when needed has created problems for some departments that have the program. Oklahoma City failed to replace cars as needed, and has received publicity regarding older units that have become unsafe to operate, and cost more to maintain than to replace. Such units being out of service for extended periods of time places a strain on the program due to officers having to drive worn out pool cars, or another officer's assigned unit, defeating the intent and benefits of the program.

There are, of course, methods to phase in a program, or lessen the initial capital outlay. Departments that have attempted to phase in the program a few cars at a time have experienced difficulty, "catching up," in replacing vehicles. This is because some officers have take home cars, and some don't, resulting in units continuing to be operated as fleet cars, driven by several officers at least two shifts a day. When these cars are out of service for maintenance or repairs, officers then use someone else's take home car, and they find themselves right back where they started.

Some departments purchase used police package cars to implement the program. While this allows the purchase of more units for the same money, higher maintenance costs and fewer years of overall service to the agency are built in factors with this approach.

Our current fleet, some in-house examples:

The oldest officer-operated vehicle in the fleet is assigned to Chief McNickle. It is a 1992 Ford Crown Victoria with 48,437 miles. (Average annual miles 8,073, operation cost per mile, 10.4 cents) It is basically used as a one-man take-home car, but does not experience routine patrol use.

We have 5 1993 model vehicles. Three are Dodge Dynasties assigned as staff pool cars, averaging 47,000 miles. (Average annual miles 9400.)

One is a Dodge Ram Charger lake patrol vehicle (4X4), with 72,382 miles, (average annual miles, 14,476, operation cost per mile,10.5 cents.) The Lake Patrol Unit is primarily a one-man unit, used by the lake patrol officer, but it is utilized by other officers, as needed, during poor weather conditions, when there is a shortage of available units, etc. The low cost per mile on this vehicle is significant, as 4 wheel drive vehicles are typically more expensive to maintain, and the vehicle is used for off-road lake patrol and in other severe operating conditions.

The remaining 1993 unit is assigned to the K9 officer. The K-9 unit is a take-home, patrol use vehicle. It serves as an example of extended years of service as a result of being a one-man, take home unit. This vehicle, due to the nature of the K-9 officer's assignment, in fact is driven more miles than an average patrol unit due to more frequent out of town training, and call-backs. Also, it experiences more wear and tear than an average unit due to the need to run the heater and air-conditioner when the dog is in the car, causing it to be idled much more than average. This unit has 74,897 miles on it. (Average annual miles, 14,979, operation cost per mile, 15.1 cents).

All 1994 model units (5) are retired patrol cars, being used as CID, DARE, or staff pool cars. Mileage on these cars vary from 59,498 to 65,285 miles. (Average annual miles, 15,266.) Considering these vehicles started as patrol pool cars, it can be seen that the average annual miles driven drops significantly as units are shifted from patrol pool to other use.

The balance of the fleet consists of 17 1995-1997 models, one assigned to CID, and the rest to Patrol. (We were not budgeted for new cars in FY 97-98.) Mileage on these units range from 21,334 to 81,127. The unit with only 21,334 miles skews the picture, as it is assigned primarily to one officer, and is used to fill in assignments at other times. The next low mileage unit in this group has 33,676 miles. (Average mileage per year on these vehicles is 30,376.) Unit 118, a typical patrol pool car, is a 1996 Crown Victoria with 65,799 miles on it. (Average annual miles, 32,900, operation cost per mile, 19.9 cents.)

According to information available, the cost of operation per mile ranges from 10.4 cents a mile for the Chief's car, and increases to 15.1 cents a mile for a the K9 unit (probably not typical to the average take home car, due to assignment factors), and increases to 19.9 cents a mile for a pool operated patrol unit.

Unknown impacts:

It is not known what impact such a program would have on the City Garage. While the number of vehicles increases with a take-home program, service intervals should become more spread out.

Parking conditions at City Hall might improve, as the number of personal cars in the lot would be fewer, and many of the units driven to work by officers would be on the street following shift change. The units that are normally seen parked on the drive when not in use would be in neighborhoods or traveling the streets.

Departments with take home programs report a significant increase in resale values of used police vehicles, even though they are older than discarded pool patrol cars. Since we typically transfer used police cars to other City departments, consideration should be given as to how the vehicle needs of other departments would be addressed.

Summary:

Take home car programs have an overall cost associated with them, as opposed to an actual savings in terms of money spent. The decision to be made is whether or not the associated costs represent an equal or greater investment in terms of quality and efficiency of service to the community and employee morale. Every administrator visited reports favorable public response to the program, and all feel that if the program is implemented, and maintained properly, the benefits more than compensate for the associated costs.

Recommendation:

Staff has no recommendation at this time. The purpose of this report is to provide information on take-home car programs. If the Commission desires more research, Staff is at your service.

Prepared by: Major David Lester

Reviewed by: Norman McNickle, Chief of Police

Some Oklahoma departments known to have take home programs:

This list is not all inclusive, but represents those that responded to a State wide inquiry by teletype.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol

Oklahoma City

Tulsa

Bartlesville

Ponca City

Broken Arrow

Altus

Ardmore

Sequoyah County

Mustang

Salpulpa

Clinton

Yukon

Lone Grove

Norman

McAlester

El Reno

Beckham County