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Long Beach Fleet Spotlight

The city of Long Beach, Calif., has a fleet of 1,900 vehicles, including fire equipment, street sweepers, maintenance vehicles and trash collection trucks. Many recently acquired vehicles are liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered, E85-compatible or hybrid vehicles.

The police department has a total of 1,482 employees, 1,020 of whom are sworn police officers, and operates 670 vehicles. Of this number, 250 are marked, black-and-white patrol vehicles. These marked vehicles are “hot-seated,” meaning they operate around the clock on a 24/7 basis. There are also approximately 400 unmarked police vehicles. The vehicles within the police department cover approximately 3.6 million miles annually.

Two full-time police officers are assigned as liaisons to Fleet Services to conduct oversight management or convey the police department’s needs. There are quarterly meetings between Fleet Services and the police department to see that each other’s needs are met. Fleet Services also has a grant writer, Patti Mobile, to pursue grant funds.

Vernon Helbig, superintendent of fleet maintenance, has 35 years of experience in vehicle maintenance and management. This includes hands-on experience on both light- and heavy-duty vehicles and police motorcycles. The Long Beach Fleet Services Bureau has won several awards throughout the years and in 2009 was ranked #18 in the top 100 fleets. The Fleet Services Bureau also won the coveted first place award in the Government Green Fleet category in 2008, which is no easy feat in these days of declining budgets and pressure to “go green.”

Fleet Services is also an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Blue Shield shop. Fleet Services operates on an annual budget of $40 million and has a staff of 61 people, which includes 41 mechanics, 12 garage service assistants, two welders, four supervisors and two service writers. Of the mechanics, 25 are ASE certified, 14 hold Master ASE certificates and two hold Double Master certification. Master-certified mechanics are rewarded with an extra $1 per hour, and the Double Masters get an extra $2 per hour.

The Long Beach Fleet Services Bureau is divided into two sections. The Light Line maintains and repairs light-duty vehicles and equipment. The Heavy Line handles larger equipment, including any vehicle equipped with air brakes. Additionally, there are four mobile repair stations that perform preventive maintenance and minor repairs on police department vehicles. They are assigned to the north, south and west police substations, in addition to the main police station located in downtown Long Beach.

In-house training is given monthly, and mechanics from other municipalities are invited to attend these training seminars. All Fleet Services mechanics are cross-trained, so if need be, any mechanic can fill in if another is at training, on leave or sick. Additionally, budget permitting, mechanics take routine in-service training at various schools. Most repair work, major or minor, is done in-house.

The exceptions are body and paint and major engine work. Fleet’s goal is to have 95 percent of all vehicle PMs completed within 30 days of their scheduled date. Fleet Services also maintains a stock of 10 pre-built, ready for the road, black-and-white police vehicles at all times in case units are severely damaged or totaled.

In the past, Fleet Services maintained a $1 million parts inventory. Careful auditing, however, revealed that many of the items sitting in its inventory were seldom used or obsolete, sitting and collecting dust. Thus, the inventory was reduced to about $500,000, only retaining components with a targeted turnover rate of three to four times annually. This assures that space and money is not wasted in storing seldom-used items; yet replacement components are readily available when needed to ensure rapid repair turnaround.

The city of Long Beach also maintains 12 gasoline and diesel fueling sites throughout the city; these sites have 21 underground tanks and hold a combined total of 177,000 gallons of fuel. The city also maintains a liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueling site with a capacity of 32,000 gallons. Helbig stated that Fleet Services tries to maintain a 10 to 14 day supply of LNG fuel in reserve at all times.

The city also operates two tank trucks to distribute gasoline and bio diesel fuel in times of emergency. With more E85 vehicles being added to its inventory, Fleet Services is looking into grant funding for the installation of an E85 fueling site in the future, as well as charging stations for electric vehicles.

Some years back, many of the black-and-white police department vehicles operated on either compressed natural gas (CNG) or gasoline. In the end, the use of CNG proved to be impractical as the tank, mounted in the trunk, reduced available space for the officer’s gear. In addition, these vehicles were not dedicated to CNG fuel and did suffer from reduced power. Another problem was that if the vehicle left the city for whatever reason, out-of-area fueling sites were scarce.

As older, heavy, diesel-powered equipment is phased out, it is replaced with vehicles that operate on LNG. Older vehicles that are still in service, such as forklifts, are or have been retrofitted with catalytic converters and other emission-reducing devices to further reduce particulate and Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) emissions. As vehicles are replaced, Fleet Services investigates using the smallest practical replacement vehicle available to save costs while still meeting customer needs.

Like the city of Long Beach, Fleet Services is a proponent of recycling. It recycles paper, waste fuel, brake fluid, engine coolant, tires and batteries. Solvent usage is minimized, and brake-cleaning solvent is used in refillable aerosol containers. Re-refined lubricants are also utilized where practical.

Vehicle upfitting is done in-house, and police equipment, such as radios, cages and light bars, is refurbished and recycled onto the next vehicle in an effort to reduce the police department’s maintenance costs. The radio shop assists with the radio and other communication equipment, such as computer installation. Helbig estimated that it takes 45 hours of labor to upfit a black-and-white cruiser and about 65 hours to upfit a K-9 vehicle.

About 50 police vehicles are replaced annually, and the average age of a police vehicle is about three and a half years old. Vehicles which are written off or “totaled” are cannibalized for usable components, such as lightbars, spotlights, radio equipment, engines, transmissions and differentials, and then sold for scrap. Vehicles that are taken out of service are stripped of their police equipment and then auctioned off.

Another method of keeping fleet maintenance “green” is to limit operating hours from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. After 6:00 pm, shop lights and HVAC are automatically turned off to conserve energy. Fleet Services is looking into the feasibility, in the future, of installing solar panels on the roof of its facility to offset energy costs, and it is looking into grant funding to offset this endeavor.

Most police vehicles are purchased through a bid process; however, some are leased. Many undercover vehicles are used retail vehicles purchased from various dealers or at auction. Fleet Operations uses the Asset Works M-4 system fleet management software, which tracks all billable and non-billable employee time. In addition, some of the benefits of this system are its ability to track vehicle history, mileage and fuel consumption.

Marked police department vehicles are given a preventive maintenance service every six months or 3,000 miles, with an annual safety inspection given after a year or at 12,000 miles, depending on the type of service the vehicle is subjected to. PM and safety inspections are conducted according to a specific checklist. In 2009, Fleet Services performed 5,699 PM operations. Helbig estimated that his operating cost to keep a black-and-white on the road, excluding fuel costs, was $0.60 per mile.

Fleet Services has a heavy vehicle brake-testing dynamometer, which can dynamically test brake efficiency and/or problems under controlled conditions without subjecting the vehicle to urban traffic conditions on public streets. In the past, heavy vehicles were tested on a quarterly basis. This practice has proven to be impractical, and currently this type of testing is reserved if complaints or problems arise or in testing heavy vehicles after work has been performed.

The Fleet Services budget was cut by 6 percent in Fiscal Year 2009, resulting in the loss of permanent positions and increased difficulty in acquiring replacement vehicles. With an aging fleet, the rate of unscheduled repairs increased 7 percent, which reduced the time available for routine preventive maintenance. With the loss of permanent positions, the end result was increased cross-training so others could fill in as needed. Overtime is assigned on an as-needed basis.

The estimated life cycle of a marked black-and-white or undercover patrol vehicle is targeted at four years or 95,000 miles. Contributing factors include the vehicle’s age, accumulated mileage, overall vehicle condition and projected repair costs. Unmarked administrative vehicles have a projected seven-year life cycle.

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

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2011

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