City mulls buying 21 new patrol vehicles

April 16, 2019

POCATELLO — The city may purchase 21 new patrol vehicles, at a cost of about $1.4 million, which would provide every officer with his or own assigned automobile.

Officials with the Police Department say the change should enable the department to extend the life of its vehicles, keep warranties active for longer and more quickly respond to calls.

Most patrol vehicles are now shared by two officers who work opposite shifts. Only a few senior staff members and school resource officers currently have exclusive use of patrol cars.

The City Council voted during an April 11 work session to approve the concept. It will consider authorizing an official, detailed request during a forthcoming regular meeting.

The city already has 37 patrol vehicles, and the new purchases would bring the city’s fleet to 58 patrol automobiles. All but four lieutenants would have their own patrol vehicles if the purchase is approved. And the department would prioritize getting vehicles for those lieutenants within a year, said Capt. Cliff Kelley.

Councilman Roger Bray said the proposal would require the city to make a substantial initial investment but would likely lead to savings afterward.

“There are different levels of efficiency here I think we’ll achieve,” Bray said.

Bray said most other police departments in the region have been assigning each officer his or her own patrol car for a long time.

“There are only one or two agencies up and down Interstate 15 that don’t do this. It’s kind of tried and true and proven, and they continue to do it,” Bray said.

The department has proposed to use $200,000 from its current budget, $546,000 from city capital contingency funds, $546,000 from reserves and $108,000 in end-of-year budget savings to cover the expense.

Deputy Chief Roger Schei told the City Council that adding the extra patrol vehicles wouldn’t lead to additional insurance costs under the city’s “umbrella” policy. He said fuel use should also be held flat.

Bray said the department now puts so many miles on its police cars, warranties that should last three years are being voided within a year and a half.

Kelley said officers would also be able to respond from their own homes directly to calls, saving time that would otherwise be spent driving to the station to get a patrol car. Furthermore, the department estimates the longevity of its cars would be extended from five years to seven or eight years, and the cars would also have a better trade-in value.

“We’re hoping overall it’s going to knock our costs down,” Kelley said.

He hopes the new vehicles will be available by late summer or early fall. Officers would be required to live within a 15-mile radius of the police station to take home a car.

Kelley believes having more cars parked in residential neighborhoods would also provide a deterrence to crimes. Under current policy, officers may take their patrol vehicles home if they work the next shift, Kelley said.

Kelley said there’s no local supplier capable of providing outfitted patrol cars. So the department works with a company that specializes in procuring and fully equipping cars for law enforcement use. He said the department will be purchasing an assortment of Ford F-150 pickup trucks, Ford Explorers, Dodge Durangos and Dodge Chargers.

Kelley said having a vehicle for every officer should also help the department respond to critical incidents. In 2012, when the Charlotte Fire destroyed several Pocatello homes, Kelley said several officers were available to respond to the scene, but there weren’t enough cars for each of them.

“That really solidified to us the plan that we needed to get a car per officer,” Kelley said.

Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said his department made the change several years ago, and assigning a vehicle to every deputy has been both good for morale and cost effective. Nielsen believes law enforcement officers who are assigned their own vehicles are more apt to take care of maintenance and keep them clean.

“When you’ve got somebody in patrol and they’re running three shifts with it, that means the car is running 24 hours per day, and then when the oil wasn’t changed it was the other guy’s fault,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen said the biggest problem with having a car for every deputy was making the initial purchase. The county gradually expanded its fleet, adding five new cars at a time.

Nielsen said having cars at deputies’ homes has also reduced response times, as a deputy who lives in Lava Hot Springs can respond directly from home to a call within his community.

“We have found it has been a money saver and also a morale booster for the county, and I expect the city will have the same results,” Nielsen said.