Fireeman, policeman, doctor, lawyer, pilot, teacher. Just a few of the career choices you may have thought about growing up. Some jobs are exciting, some are mundane, some rewarding, some are done just to pay the bills. And then... there's the police fleet manager.
After 13 years as fleet operations manager with the Illinois State Police and a total of 29 years with the state of Illinois, I retired April 30, 2007. Over the years, while networking with other police fleet professionals, I realized that we all pretty much face the same challenges, regardless of the size of the agency or what our backgrounds are.
From my experience, one trend in the industry is that sworn officers don’t usually keep their jobs in fleet longer than five years. A statistic from the wrap-up survey of the 2007 Police Fleet Expo—in which one-third of the attendees responded—backs my assumption. Of those respondents, 40% have done their jobs more than 10 years; 23% from 6 to 10 years; 27% from 2 to 5 years and 10% less than 2 years.
Also from the survey, 53% are police officers, leaving the remaining 47% as civilians. I have no doubt this information is accurate based on these responses, but personally, I believe the trend is more police fleet managers are civilian rather than sworn.
I’m not implying sworn officers don’t make good police fleet managers because they most certainly do. The reality is for most sworn officers to get promotions, they must change jobs, which is also true for civilians to a limited degree. When I assumed the fleet manager’s position in 1994, I succeeded four sworn individuals who were there a combined total of three years. One officer, who later became my boss, was there for only 45 days. But the point is that sworn and civilians have different paths to success.
When someone would ask me why I never applied for administrative positions with more responsibility, I said I was at the highest job title I could attain in state government. But the real reason was because I was a career fleet professional. I would have more career opportunities outside my agency, more national recognition and more pride and satisfaction than just being another administrator. I had the BEST job in the agency!
As a police officer, this is your career. You can change jobs within the organization, but regardless of your job, you’re still a cop. In my position as a civilian employee, my career was a fleet manager, so if I changed jobs, I would also change my career.
So we are seeing that many mid-size to larger departments are hiring civilians. They realize vehicles are their second largest expense behind salaries, and as they fight to get their piece of the budget pie, they know having experience and training in the position can lead to long-term benefits. Plus, departments not only have a big investment in their vehicles, but also in the personnel who manage and maintain the vehicles. It’s easy to say “put more money in the fleet program,” but without someone who is knowledgeable about what to do with that money and who can solve the many problems that arise daily in any fleet, financial resources do not solve the immediate need.
Whether you have three cars or 3,000 cars or whether you are a civilian or sworn officer, the objectives are basically the same—give your personnel the tools they need to do their jobs, and make sure the vehicles won’t let the officers down. This is not an easy task.
One thing I had to learn to do over the years was to leave the job behind when I left for the day. If not, the consequences can be burnout or just not giving 100%. Sure, I may have thought about solving a problem driving back and forth or when I was cutting grass, but I learned not to let it consume me. There comes a time when you need to separate yourself from your job. That may be difficult because those of us in fleet management are dedicated souls!
I’ve attended many police and non-police conferences, and when police fleet professionals are attending, they normally have to be thrown out of the exhibit hall at the end of the day. Most exhibit halls become a ghost town late in the day, but not at Police Fleet Expo! The dedication, the professionalism, and the need for more information make me proud of my colleagues.
In the next installments, I’ll be looking at what exactly we do and how we do it. If you have comments or experiences you want to share, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll leave you with a quote from a fellow colleague to which I’m sure we can all relate: “My city counsel does not like me because I am asking for too many vehicles—the life of a fleet manager.”
Dennis Tucker recently retired as police fleet manager for the Illinois State Police with 29 years of public service experience. He is chairman of the Police Fleet Expo hosted by the Hendon Expo Group. He can be reached at DTucker@hendonpub.com.