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Rensselaer, IN Police Department

Written by Robert Montgomery

The Rensselaer, Ind. Police Department is located in northwest Indiana between Indianapolis and Chicago. Chief Jeff Phillips carries dual duties as the chief of police and the fleet manager. Rensselaer has a population of 6,200 people and covers 38 square miles. The police department has a total of 10 sworn officers, 10 police units and two bicycles. The Rensselaer fleet consists of one Jeep, two Chargers, six Impalas and one Crown Victoria. The department’s maintenance budget is $11,000 per year, which averages to $1,100 per vehicle. Eight of the 10 units are marked vehicles, while the chief’s and detective’s units are unmarked.

Rensselaer is a small department with limited resources, and in the event of an emergency, the chief’s and patrol sergeant’s vehicles are used as command vehicles. Each vehicle is equipped with computers and radio capabilities of 800 MHz and VHF. Each officer is issued a vehicle for take-home use and must live within six miles of the city limits. Rensselaer averages 15,000 miles per year on patrol units, with an average life span of eight to nine years per unit.

Chief Phillips credits the long life span of their police cars to proper maintenance. Vehicles are replaced when the budget allows, and it may vary from year to year. When a new vehicle is purchased, Phillips uses local dealerships for his replacements. The police department trades its old units to the dealerships and uses the value of an old unit to offset the cost of the new unit.

Typically, if a car reaches 100K miles in Rensselaer, it will be traded next. Phillips pointed out that 100K miles in a small city is a lot of stopping, turning and idling. If the vehicle was sold at auction, the funds from the sale would be returned to the city’s general funds and would not be available for department use.

Rensselaer PD uses city mechanics that are assigned to the city’s power generating station. Phillips saves a significant amount of funds in labor costs with city mechanics but is limited to general maintenance; major repairs are outsourced. City maintenance technicians monitor last dates of service on each vehicle without the benefit of software, and they report service issues directly to the chief.

Replacement of brake components is handled by city staff and is done on technician recommendations. Rensselaer city shops have started to do limited vehicle upfitting but do not handle radio installation. Vehicle partitions are used in all patrol units but not in the admin and detective vehicles.

Like some police departments, Rensselaer has issues with batteries draining and has not found an adequate solution to the problem. Each year, the police department replaces one-third of its fleet batteries; most are covered under warranty. Police vehicles carry a variety of police gear in-trunk, including riot gear, evidence collection kits, first aid kits, extra weapons, blood contamination kits, cameras and fuses, which can add an additional 15 to 50 pounds to the trunk.

The police department averages two accidents each year, with an average bill of $3,000 per repair. During winter months, the police department prepares its rear wheel drive vehicles (Charger, Ford CVPI) with snow tires and with sand bags in the trunk. With the Impala’s front wheel drive, no changes are made to this vehicle for winter driving.

What with rising fuel prices, the police department has increased its use of bicycle patrol. This has had two benefits, the first being increased public awareness of the department’s attempts to control fuel costs. The second is positive public perception and requests for bike officer demonstrations within the community. Another benefit is that officers like the bike patrol during the night, which has resulted in several crime-in-progress arrests.

In regard to the fuel situation, Phillips sees better fuel mileage from the V6 Impala and other V6 vehicles as a solution. Officers have attempted to reduce idling on vehicles to decrease fuel consumption, and this has seemed to help. Phillips believes the biggest challenge to his fleet will be incorporating police package vehicle changes to promote gas and ecological savings. The challenge will be acquiring the funds to balance this and still provide the police services needed.

The best cost-saving idea the Rensselaer Police have had is the use of diagnostic equipment in the repair of their police vehicles. City technicians have used this to assist in lowering repair costs and down time. Phillips also likes the idea of all aftermarket accessories being upfitted by the factory. He feels it would be easier for a small department to budget for vehicles if all the accessories were in place direct from the factory.
 
Lieutenant Robert Montgomery has been in law enforcement for the past 23 years. He is finishing his 18th year with the City of Duluth Police Department where he has been the fleet manager for the past 13 years. He can be reached at montgomery@duluthpd.com.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2010

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