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The No-Idle Policy

Written by Ed Sanow

Gasoline was $2.75 in August 2007. It rose steadily to peak at $4.12 in July 2008, fell sharply to $1.61 by December 2008, and then began a steady rise to $2.61 in August 2009. You know where it is going.

One way to dramatically lower fuel costs—without making any other changes in patrol tactics, without mileage restrictions, without take-home car restrictions, without going to smaller engines or smaller vehicles, without more foot patrol, and without doubling up officers in vehicles—is to implement a no-idle policy.

Consider this case study: Two officers drive identical V6 Chargers, both patrol exactly the same area, both conduct about the same number of self-initiated vehicle stops, both respond to the same kind and the same number of calls-for-service, and both average about 2,500 miles per month. One officer averages 13 mpg to 14 mpg while the other averages 19 mpg to 20 mpg. The only difference is idle time.

You know what I am talking about. You have the same kind of officers in your department. There will be an officer in your department who will come in to work on a report for two hours while the patrol car sits in the parking lot idling the whole time.

The no-idle policy can be quite informal—let’s say you ask officers to consider a 10-minute maximum for idling—and you can use the honor system and peer pressure to have them follow this suggestion. Or your no-idle policy can have more formal auditing and enough teeth to result in days off for a second violation. You decide what fits your department the best. The chiefs and sheriffs should put pressure on their sergeants to enforce the no-idle policy.

Obviously, specialty vehicles like K9 units are exempted, and so are vehicles running the old-fashioned halogen emergency lights. However, vehicles using all LEDs must obey the no-idle policy, even at time-consuming accident scenes. While exemptions are usually granted for temperature conditions below 32 degrees, the no-idle policy is usually enforced during higher summer temperatures.

When gas was above $3 a gallon, you probably considered mileage restrictions. But how do you do that without reducing service? A no-idle policy will reduce the wear and tear on the engine and engine accessories by 33 miles per idle hour and, of course, save 1/2 gallon of fuel per idle hour. All while making no change whatsoever in any other aspect of your police operations.

All the police package cars today have a dash display for idle hours (when the engine is running and in “park”). How about simply monitoring fuel use and idle hours? You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Get reports on total fuel use by each officer. Post all those numbers. Watch for the outmarkers and look into the reasons why.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2009

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