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Fleet Profile: San Francisco Police Department

San Francisco is a unique city. To provide law enforcement services requires a variety of transportation methods—foot patrol, mounted or horse patrol, motorcycles, bicycles, watercraft and of course, the traditional black and white police sedan. Of this substantial fleet of vehicles, 304 are black and white police sedans, with the majority being Ford CVPIs. There are also 424 unmarked and administration vehicles. Prisoner transportation requires 26 vans. The SFPD fleet of 1,287 vehicles covers 3 million miles per year.

The department has 92 black and white Harley-Davidson motorcycles for traffic enforcement and 42 off-road motorcycles for patrolling rural areas. Supplementing this fleet of two-wheeled vehicles are 251 police bicycles. Also included in the fleet are specialized vehicles for SWAT and bomb and tactical squads, an Armored Personnel Carrier, regular passenger vans, miscellaneous equipment and stake bed trucks, mobile generators and horse trailers. The SFPD Fleet Operations only buys police vehicles; they do not procure vehicles for any other branch of city government.

In interest of the “go green” trend, the SFPD also utilizes several alternative fuel vehicles, including seven black and white and 14 unmarked Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles, as well as 14 unmarked hybrid vehicles. Current thought is that “green” vehicles will be used for administrative functions. A couple of years ago, there was a push from city government for E-85 compatible vehicles. The reality of the situation is that there are no E-85 fueling facilities within a reasonable distance of San Francisco to make E-85 a reality at this time.

SFPD Fleet Operations has some city-specific challenges. One of these is to overcome the lack of parking space for maintenance operations in this congested, tightly-packed city. There is barely enough room to park the police vehicles, which is actually accomplished by utilizing the space below the raised freeway overpasses.

The SFPD has one dedicated shop to service its police and parking vehicles which consists of four stalls. Three of the stalls are for lubrication, preventative maintenance, undercarriage damage repairs, suspension checks and tire changes. The remaining stall is reserved for other minor mechanical work, such as brake service. There are four full-time civilian mechanics assigned to that facility, with one of the mechanics being assigned strictly to service the motorcycles.

Additionally, civilian maintenance personnel are assigned to each of the police stations to oversee the rolling stock assigned to that station. More serious repair work, including collision damage repair, is sent out to either the city’s Central Shops facility or to an outside vendor. Major repair work, such as engine or transmission repairs, is sent to a designated outside vendor. Warranty work is handled by the dealership.

Unmarked vehicles are serviced every 4,000 miles, and the black and white vehicles every 3,000 miles. This PM includes changing fluids and filters, a safety check, checking the condition of brakes and tires, checking the body and undercarriage for damage, and checking the suspension. A 3,000 mile service interval is not overkill. The hilly terrain of San Francisco is extremely hard on brakes—the hardest in the nation, in fact. Brake pads on marked vehicles only last about 3,000 miles.

The department policy on replacement parts, especially brake components, is to use Original Equipment (OE) because these components have been tested and certified for that particular vehicle by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police Vehicle tests. The SFPD uses OE tires for exactly the same reason. Flat tires are only repaired on administrative vehicles. On black and white vehicles, punctured or otherwise damaged tires are routinely replaced. When the vehicle is brought in to be fueled, mileage is recorded, and if the vehicle is due for a Preventative Maintenance service it is taken out of service then and there. No exceptions!

The SFPD has an internal management system using Excel; however, Fleet Operations has to call Central Shops, which utilizes MAPCON, to obtain specific information on individual vehicle maintenance and fuel cost history.

Central Shops handles maintenance and repair work for both city and county vehicles. This includes heavy equipment such as fire engines and sheriff’s busses. In addition to mechanical repair, Central Shops does its own emission testing and certification, which is required by state law.

They also have a bicycle repair facility to service their Trek Police Bicycles, a radio shop to repair and install radio equipment, and a complete body shop equipped with a frame-straightening rack. Every vehicle requiring body work is automatically placed on this rack to ensure that it is within manufacturer specifications and tolerances when it leaves the facility.

Radio and computer equipment is installed by the radio shop. All other upfitting of department vehicles is done by an outside vendor, either Emergency Vehicle Solutions in Menlo Park or Priority 1 Public Safety Equipment in Belmont. These upfitters install the sirens, security partitions and lightbars.

One of the items currently specified by the SFPD on their marked vehicles is a solar panel mounted inside the Code 3 MX7000 LED lightbar. On sunny days, the solar panel acts as a trickle charger to offset the parasitic electrical drain from all the upfitted police equipment. A timer is utilized to shut off the computer at a preset interval after the engine is shut off so as to prevent battery drain.

Electronic equipment in the trunk, such as the computer modem, is mounted on pull-out sliders for ease of service. Other equipment includes a Setina Bodyguard Partition between the front and rear seat to protect the officers. Some vehicles have a steel bar installed over the windows of the rear doors to prevent escape if the glass is kicked out by a violent prisoner.

The SFPD has a vehicle take-home policy for certain individuals, depending upon their assignment; these include those with the rank of lieutenant or higher and some command staff. “On-call” detectives are also allowed to take department vehicles home. Motorcycles are not routinely taken home but are stored at the police station, except for in the case of assigned “on-call” motor officers.

Equipment carried in the trunks of patrol vehicles varies, depending on the officer’s assignment and responsibilities. All vehicles are equipped with a full-sized spare tire, due to the Tire Pressure Management System. Each car also carries a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, flares, crime scene tape, chemical (HazMat) suits, rain gear and riot gear. Optional equipment includes spike strips, a ram for breaching doors, ballistic vests and a cased long-gun for SWAT officers.

Vehicle abuse is a problem with almost any fleet, and San Francisco is no different. Some officers take the attitude of “It’s not my car.” Add to that the effects of the harsh San Francisco terrain, and vehicles age quickly—and show it. One of the ways the fleet manager tries to counteract this problem is by initiating an awards program. Stations that take care of their cars have priority on new vehicles. Stations that abuse and damage cars without taking responsibility continue to receive high-mileage vehicles as replacements.

San Francisco, like many other municipalities in today’s economy, has its share of budget woes. Some vehicles are purchased from the city’s General Fund and some are leased through the Finance Office of the Mayor. In theory, Fleet Operations would like to see a vehicle lifecycle of 95,000 miles and/or eight years of service. Budget cuts have eliminated this because funds for replacement vehicles remain uncertain from year to year. Currently, there is no set replacement cycle.

One money-saving step has been to reduce the sending of vehicles to commercial car washes and to have members of the Sheriff Work Alternative Program (inmate trustees) wash department vehicles at the police stations instead. Fleet Operations also initiated a cost recovery program from at-fault individuals who collided with or caused damage to police vehicles. This program, which had been overlooked for many years by the City Attorney’s Office, has recovered $132,000 in damages so far for the year 2009.

Vehicles that have outlived their usefulness and are decommissioned are sent to an auctioneer who contracts with the city. The proceeds from the sales of the used police vehicles revert back to the city’s General Fund, not to the police department. Because the vehicles are ordered to be keyed alike, locks are changed prior to shipping the vehicles out to auction so that the new owners (mostly taxi companies) will not have a key which fits vehicles currently in their fleet.

While San Francisco and most other law enforcement agencies have gone to higher frequency radio bands (i.e., VHF, UHF and 800 MHz radio systems), the SFPD still retains its low-band radio equipment (45 MHz) and its marked vehicles still mount long whip antennas. If a major catastrophic event occurred, such as another severe earthquake, low-band would still provide reliable communications.

Traditionally, San Francisco Police fleet management has been a sworn position. For the past 10 years, Acting Sergeant Richard Lee has been in charge of Fleet Operations for the SFPD. A 29-year veteran of law enforcement, Lee has served various patrol assignments, including foot-beat, working a sector car and prisoner transportation. He served as a member of the SWAT team for 13 years. With his experience and knowledge, Lee is aware of the line officer’s vehicular needs. To keep abreast of current industry trends, he routinely attends both the annual Michigan State Police and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vehicle tests, as well as various fleet seminars.

John Bellah is the Technical Editor of

Police Fleet Manager and retired corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police. He may be reached via e-mail at

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Nov/Dec 2009

Rating : 8.1

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