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Budget and Cost Control Tips

Written by John Bellah

Some municipalities disbanded their police departments and have agreed to contract law enforcement services with other departments, such as the sheriff or state police agencies. Heading toward the extreme is the notion of replacing sworn officers with private security guards, which potentially create severe liability issues. While private security can supplement law enforcement, they cannot replace law enforcement.

 

Work Shifts

In the past, “traditional” law enforcement scheduling has been five days on, two days off. Many agencies have moved toward Compressed Work Schedules, (CWS) such as four 10-hour days, or three 12-hour days. This can be a morale-booster, especially for personnel who are assigned to work different shifts as it offers more days off and reduced commuting times and mileage.

The concept of take-home cars is controversial and policies vastly differ between departments. Some departments limit take-home vehicles to motorcycles, higher-ranking staff officers, K-9, and on-call detectives. Other departments may individually issue the vehicle and allow the officer to take their vehicle home. Some advantages to take-home vehicles include instant mobilization in the event of a disaster, and vehicles do last longer as they receive better care and less abuse than the typical fleet vehicle.

 

Reserve Officers

Many departments allow the option of retired officers to function as active reserve officers, to supplement patrol, investigations, staff special events, and other functions within the department. This can reduce overtime and benefits expenses. Keeping retired officers active retains valuable manpower, and more importantly, retains the accumulated skills and knowledge, which might have walked out the door along with their retired badge and I.D. card.

Some agencies rely heavily on reserve officers, which can have positive and negative benefits, depending on the type of reserve program in place. Reserve officers can range from the unarmed auxiliary, useful for traffic control, writing parking citations, special events, working as a desk officer or as a jailor. On the other end of the spectrum is the fully certified reserve with 24/7 police powers. The law enforcement manager needs to be careful about how reserves are deployed as saturating patrol divisions with reserves to the point where regular officers are displaced will bring about howls from the regular officers and/or their bargaining associations.

 

Income-Generating Ideas

Many departments are generating some additional income from various services such as conducting and submitting fingerprints for individuals requiring security clearances, the releasing of impounded vehicles, providing copies of reports, subpoena service, issuance of various licenses, and citation sign-offs for equipment violations. When was this policy last updated, and are the costs in line with current price schedules?

Instead of contracting to outside vendors, such as car washes, some fleet managers utilize trusty labor from the jails to wash their vehicles and provide other custodial duties. Care must be taken that weapons, computer terminals, and other sensitive information cannot be accessed by the trustees.

Sergeant Richard Lee, fleet manager of the San Francisco Police Department, has a demanding job keeping his 1200-vehicle fleet on the road in a rugged operating environment. Unfortunately, in law enforcement accidents do occur and in his city, about 240 police vehicle collisions occur annually.

One of the things Sergeant Lee does is push the City Attorney for restitution against the at-fault drivers and their insurance companies for damage to his police vehicles and/or city property. This has added up to a considerable amount of money, in the range of about $100,000 annually. Over the past 10 years, Sgt. Lee has recovered almost $1.2 million. Sgt. Lee is insistent this funding is diverted back into his budget to offset repair costs, rather than the General Fund, where the money would never be seen again.

 

Alternative Vehicles

Tightened budgets have tempted many law enforcement fleet administrators to keep police vehicles in service until they are no longer serviceable—in other words, run them until the wheels fall off. While this theory appears to be cost-effective to the uninformed, it is not economical in the long run when major components begin the fail and repair cost skyrocket. Excessive repair costs can very well be a determining factor as it makes very little sense to install a $4,000 engine in a five-year-old police sedan, which would have a resale value of maybe $1,500.

Many agencies are looking at lowering transportation costs by looking into alternative vehicles, such as increased bicycle and motorcycle patrols. Having the officers stop periodically and conduct foot patrols is another way of reducing wear on the vehicles and keeping fuel costs down. Some agencies are looking at using alternative types of vehicles, such as flex-fuel, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), hybrid, or pure electric vehicles for administrative, detective, or undercover applications.

California State University, Long Beach Police Department has looked at various alternative patrol methods, aside from the “traditional” black-and-white Ford CVPI, they revived their bicycle patrol program, supplemented with officers on foot and Segways. Chief Solorzano is looking toward adding at least one motorcycle—an electric Zero, which should be more than adequate in patrolling the 300-plus-acre campus and the surrounding community. This would reduce fuel costs and maintain the “green” image.

Mark Compton and Mike Hogan, fleet managers for the City of La Habra, Calif., found a cost-effective to way to replace some high-mileage patrol vehicles in the police department’s fleet. Being a relatively small department, and on a limited budget, luckily they came across a nearby dealer who had a backlog of unsold Ford CVPIs. While these cars were four years old, they were brand-new cars, with the factory warranties, which would commence the day the vehicles entered service. La Habra submitted a bid for these vehicles, which was accepted by the dealer, who was happy to get rid of their unsold Fords.

Some fleet managers often source low-mileage used vehicles for administrative and undercover use from dealer auctions, or rental fleet returns. This practice is far cheaper than buying new vehicles, saving the cost of depreciation. Additionally, some returned rental vehicles often come with their own warranty from the rental company. These types of vehicles would be ideal for undercover applications as they appear as “stock” vehicles without the “plain-wrapper” appearance. Another advantage is these vehicles can easily be rotated—or resold, if a variety of vehicles are required.

 

Vinyl Wraps and Seats

Instead of ordering custom paint combinations, some law enforcement fleet operators are ordering solid-color vehicles and utilize a vinyl wrap on the doors, fenders, and/or roof to make a two-color vehicle. This practice aids during resale as using a heat gun will quickly remove the wrap, reverting the vehicle back to a solid color. This saves the cost of ordering custom paint and the cost and environmental concerns of repainting the vehicle for resale. Most automakers offer vinyl wraps on their NextGen vehicles.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has been experimenting by using a urethane plastic spray, manufactured by Scorpion, over the rear seat area of their cruisers. This coating, similar to that of bedliners sprayed inside the beds of pickup trucks, covers the rear seat and upholstery panels of their cruisers. This coating also has antibacterial properties, lest the rear seat occupants have an “accident.” If such an incident occurs, the back seat area can be hosed out. Later, when the vehicle is to be prepped for resale, the coating is removed, leaving pristine upholstery in the rear seat area.

 

Salvage Parts

Many agencies cannibalize parts and components from decommissioned or wrecked vehicles. The LAPD completely strips all of their collision-damaged vehicles of useable parts and stockpiles fenders, doors, seats, engines, transmissions, differentials, and other viable components. With the stockpile of parts, if a vehicle comes in needing minor collision repairs, a surplus door or fender can be quickly bolted on and the vehicle returned to service without waiting for new parts or repainting.

Many agencies are realizing a better bang-for-the-buck by replacing vehicles when they are still viable—selling them to other law enforcement entities, security, or taxi companies and factoring in the resale value toward the new replacement vehicles. This practice pays off in higher officer morale and lower repair overall repair and maintenance costs, due to vehicles still being under warranty. Our newer police vehicles are more fuel-efficient, and many are E85 compatible. The current-generation police vehicles also have advanced safety features, over and above ABS, such as side-curtain and knee airbags, enhanced rollover protection, and stability control. These advanced features make for safer vehicles and reduced liability.

On the subject of “doing more with less,” many agencies are reducing upfitting time and costs by purchasing vehicles already manufactured with one of the available factory prep packages. The manufacturers currently offer various packages including completely upfitted, “turnkey” vehicles, where little is needed aside from installing communications gear, weaponry, and to affix the agency’s graphics or insignia on the doors. An additional advantage to purchasing the prep packages is they are standardized, meaning the information is covered in the factory shop manuals and covered by the factory warranty.

 

Service and Repair

How is vehicle maintenance performed and who performs it? Dealership, independent repair facility, or is it done in-house? With smaller fleets it may be more cost-effective to outsource maintenance or repairs; however, with a larger fleet, in-house maintenance should be seriously considered. If the fleet size indicates it is best served by an outside contractor, one consideration would be dealing with another municipal/county/state maintenance facility, who may be happy to have the additional work to overcome lulls and avoid having to lay off personnel. These outside facilities should also have completive labor rates compared to the rates charged by dealerships.

Many successful fleet maintenance operations are operated as a stand-alone business such as with the City of Everett, Wash. In addition to servicing their police vehicles, Fleet Operations also services and repairs other municipal vehicles, including transit busses.

Bill DeRousse, retired fleet manager for the City of Everett, Wash., advises to keep all of the necessary pertinent information close at hand. Whenever a new city administrator stops by, DeRousse prints up a briefing book with the latest facts and figures and hands it to the new administrator. DeRousse then conducts a two-hour sit-down session with the administrator and he explains exactly how his operation functions and answers whatever questions come up.

DeRousse also stresses customer service. A person can be a great service manager; however, if he/she gives poor customer service, the end result is an unhappy customer. A successful fleet manager needs be knowledgeable in not only basic business practices, but the area he/she serves. If this pertinent information is not immediately available, it would be difficult to justify purchasing a new piece of equipment or hiring a new technician.

Having your in-house fleet repair facility become an in-house warranty provider can also generate additional income and save the downtime or hassles of shuttling vehicles back and forth to the dealership. Any work that can be done faster and cheaper should be subletted to outside vendors. Depending on the shop’s capacity and technician’s skills, such “farmed out” operations may include wheel alignment, paint and collision work, air conditioning service, machine-shop operations, radiator repair, and alternator, starter, and drivetrain component rebuilding.

 

Synthetic Oil

On the subject of transmissions, the fleet managers of the City of La Habra, Calif. learned that using full-synthetic transmission fluid considerably extended transmission life—in their experience, this practice obtains an additional 30,000 miles per unit. If and when the unit does go bad, instead of rebuilding or sending the vehicle to a transmission shop, they will exchange the bad transmission with a factory-remanufactured unit, which has all of the latest upgrades and is backed by the factory warranty and saves downtime.

In most cases, the 3,000-mile engine oil change interval is a thing of the past, given today’s advanced engine technology and superior lubricants. With some vehicles, such as General Motors and Chrysler vehicles, the engine computer calculates when the engine oil should be changed. This figure is calculated based on engine revolutions and temperatures the oil has been subjected to. When the oil change light comes on, the vehicle can be safely operated for another 600 miles. Extended oil changes can reduce the service intervals, reduce maintenance costs, and conserve on petroleum products.

 

John Bellah is a Technical Editor for Police Fleet Manager Magazine and a retired corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police Department. He may be reached at pfmteched@yahoo.com.


Published in Law and Order, Oct 2013

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