Lieutenant John DeRousse is a 16-year veteran of law enforcement and currently serves as the administrative lieutenant with the Everett, Wash. Police. In common with many police departments, part of DeRousse’s duties includes coordinating the department’s fleet. This position was previously assigned to a full-time civilian fleet manager, however that position was eliminated three years ago as a cost-saving measure.
At a recent Police Fleet Expo, DeRousse made the presentation, “Managing Cops and Cars.” A lot of excellent tips were given for the new fleet manager, either sworn or civilian. It also served as a good refresher for even the experienced fleet coordinator. John DeRousse is no stranger to fleet management / administration — he had the “home course” under the tutelage of his father, Bill DeRousse, the recently retired Fleet Superintendent for the City of Everett.
While it can be tempting, DeRousse cautions the newly appointed fleet manager not to try to re-invent the wheel. Don’t immediately jump in and make sweeping changes without determining if these changes really need to be made. Many managers, technicians, and other workers in fleet operations have been around for many years and usually have their own systems in place. Unneeded major changes may very well cause friction and resentment.
Expect to be on a short leash at the beginning. The prudent chief or sheriff isn’t going to just turn loose a million dollar budget to the new fleet manager. Expect to confer with top admin on most police vehicle matters. It may be as simple as sending an FYI e-mail for review on all fleet questions. This may be dozens and dozens of e-mails during the first weeks.
However, with each e-mail, DeRousse included his own opinion on the issue and had a suggested answer spelled out. Soon, top admin will understand you are quite capable of addressing the problems and will tell you to stop sending all those e-mails!
Part of the fleet manager’s duties is making sure their employees are accountable for the equipment that is assigned to them. That means periodic vehicle inspections and a system where complaints are acted upon. Accountability should not mean finding ways to point out what officers are doing wrong. That’s one side of the coin.
The other side is that officers also need to know that neglecting to check their oil and fluid levels, or failure to bring their patrol car in for preventative maintenance appointments is not acceptable. Unfortunately, this laxness was discovered after the department experienced several catastrophic engine failures and a quick check determined there was no oil on the dip-stick, meaning oil levels were not checked. Officers should not be afraid of vehicle inspections or safety checks.
Some officers might argue that they were never trained on how to check the oil, put gas in the tank, or change a tire. Therefore, departments need to provide that training. Customer training at all levels addresses the requirements of equipment accountability. It takes away the excuses but is also a way to proactively ensure the longevity of assigned equipment.
Networking and communication are extremely important. DeRousse stresses maintaining communication within all levels within your organization. Constantly keep lines of communication open and let management, your staff, and the line officers know what your goals and intentions are.
This means interacting with the officers, attending city council or board of supervisor meetings, and service meetings with your mechanics / technicians. Good lines of communication – a two-way street – help to generate trust. With today’s communication technology, there are numerous ways of getting the word out: word-of-mouth, face-to-face meeting, telephone, briefing bulletins, text messages, instant messaging and e-mail. Don’t overlook social media sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
Outside agency communication is also important. That includes networking with former fleet managers, current managers of other fleets, and becoming involved with fleet management organizations. DeRousse maintains a spreadsheet, which is available at every workstation in his city. This shows the available vehicles in his fleet, who the vehicles are assigned to, and available spare vehicles along with their statuses.
Everett rotates their marked patrol vehicles out of service at 100K miles. Admin vehicles are replaced after 125K miles. DeRousse stresses that a strict vehicle rotation policy needs to be implemented to ensure timely rotation of the fleet. Some vehicles are hot-seated, i.e., operated on a 24/7 basis. These will obviously run up the mileage quickly and be due for replacement in a couple of years. Other vehicles, say for a detective or school resource officer, may only drive a few miles daily and it may take many years to accumulate the required mileage before being eligible for retirement.
Rotating vehicles and specifically assigning those to different officers help reduce the additional abuse of different drivers and utilizes the most from each piece of fleet equipment. Without rotation, the cops will want to drive the newest and shiniest vehicles. Thus, the newer vehicles will quickly run up mileage and the older vehicles will be underutilized, slowly accumulate mileage, taking that much longer before they are replaced.
This is an area where good communication skills are important. An officer may resent driving that older vehicle. DeRousse carefully explains his vehicle rotation policy to the line officers and in return, often receives e-mails from the officers with attached odometer photos nearing or reaching the magic 100K mile mark.
There are other factors to be considered in the replacement of a vehicle. Age is one factor. An older vehicle won’t be as fuel efficient, nor will it have the advantage of E85 capability, stability control or side-curtain air bags. Newer vehicles are still under warranty and will require less repair costs. Excessive repair costs can very well be a determining factor as it would make little sense to install a $4,000 engine in a 5-year-old police sedan, with a resale value of maybe $1,500.
Understand the Best Practices
If you are new to managing the fleet, you may not know your benchmarks. Statistics, percentages and best practices ratios can provide the fleet manager with real power, i.e., knowledge really is power. The fleet manager should know certain basic facts about the fleet he / she manages. This begins with the number of marked and unmarked police vehicles and the number of admin and support vehicles.
For example, the Everett Police has 104 police cars and 84 support vehicles. Other essential facts should be known, like the average miles per gallon in each vehicle class. Everett’s marked patrol cars average 10.1 mpg; the detective vehicles average 21.1 mpg; and their hybrid admin vehicles average 36.1 mpg.
You also need to know the average age of the vehicles in the fleet. This is your first indication if you are keeping your vehicles around too long, or if you are improving the age of your fleet from year to year. The average age of Everett’s patrol fleet is 3.5 years old. Also, know the ratio of spare (pool) police vehicles to marked units. Everett keeps five spare patrol vehicles on hand, which is just under 5 percent of their marked fleet.
On the tip of your tongue have the number of alternative fuel vehicles and hybrids in the fleet. Although Everett doesn’t currently use E85 in their vehicles, all the patrol vehicles purchased since 2008 (51 vehicles) are equipped to handle ethanol-based fuel. Everett has nine Toyota Prius Hybrids that are used as support vehicles.
Miles Per Year?
How about the average miles driven per patrol car per year? A good fleet management software program will help you make these calculations and should be used to decide how to assign patrol vehicles that are being underutilized. Everett’s marked police vehicles traveled an average of 10,400 miles last year. In one year, the Everett Police totals about 733,000 miles.
On the same topic, you must know the number of police and support vehicles nearing the end of their life cycle. This is another list that can be calculated by a fleet management program. It helps forecast vehicle replacement budgets.
Idling obviously affects fuel consumption. Most police vehicles now have idle hour meters available in the driver information center (dash display). This makes it easier to track the amount of time a vehicle is driven or idling. Be sure you know the difference in the vehicle display between engine idle hours and total operating hours. (Read the owner’s manual.) Everett does not currently track idling time, but this may prove to be a better way to judge when a vehicle should be removed from service. For example, they may decide to pull a patrol car from service when it reaches 15,000 hours of use, as opposed to 100,000 miles.
Operate Versus Ownership
One key item dominated most of his discussion – money. Understanding what it costs to run the fleet should be on the radar of every new fleet manager. Getting a full and complete understanding of your operating expenses is mission number one. Motor vehicle costs can be broken down into two categories: operating costs and ownership costs.
Operating costs are the daily costs to do business, expressed as dollars or cents per mile driven. Maintenance costs should be about 23 to 25 cents per mile. This includes such services as preventative maintenance (oil changes, tire rotation), safety checks and out-of-warranty repairs. Gasoline, depending on idling time, is going to be about 25 to 28 cents a mile, although that number will clearly increase with the return to $4 gas. Collision costs are between 2 and 6 cents a mile.
Ownership costs are the costs of purchasing your police vehicles. Ownership costs include insurance, taxes, depreciation (initial purchase price), upfitting costs, licensing, financing, etc.
The base price of a marked police car will be between $20K and $25K, while the cost to upfit varies wildly, depending on what equipment is installed – perhaps a low of $5K and a high over $20K.
Other costs that new fleet managers should know for budgetary purposes is their shop labor rate, whether you service your vehicles in-house or have a private company take care of maintenance and repairs. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, that shop rate should range from $75 to $100 an hour.
DeRousse recapped his presentation with advice for the new fleet manager. “Efficient police fleet management involves…a commitment to developing systems. These systems include a structured vehicle replacement program, transparent objectives, and the development of relationships with the long term employees who do the job. By making these concepts a daily practice, we will see the people who work at our agency becoming extensions of us in the field and we are taking the right steps toward improving our efficiency.”
John Bellah is the technical editor of Police Fleet Manager and a retired corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.