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2006 Police Fleet Expo

Written by John Bellah

Nearly 500 law enforcement fleet maintenance personnel from all over the United States and Canada attended the 2006 Police Fleet Expo (PFE) in Louisville. The conference included educational sessions, exhibits of the latest in police vehicles and equipment, and the Ride & Drive at the Kentucky International Speedway. The PFE also provided a significant opportunity to meet, interact and network with other fleet administrators, managers and as the representatives of various manufacturers, as well as showing the latest in new vehicles and products. The host agency was the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Replacement Strategies

The question of when equipment should be replaced is always a hot topic. Bill DeRousse, fleet superintendent for the city of Everett, WA, gave a presentation on how he maintains his fleet of 1,000 vehicles. Separately, DeRousse put on an excellent presentation on tracking vehicle operating costs, which is vitally important in projecting vehicle longevity.

A vehicle can be kept on the road almost indefinitely—provided there is enough money available to keep replacing engines, transmissions, and other vital components. Additionally, keeping that older vehicle in-service brings out the question of downtime—when the vehicle is not available for service. At some point, the cost of repairs and the excessive amount of downtime ceases to be cost effective, and the vehicle must be replaced.

There is no stated “Blue Book” value for a used police cruiser. However, the current typical value of a five-year-old police cruiser in “as-is” condition with 100,000 miles is about $2,400—usually to a taxi company. As the vehicle grows older, of course, the value decreases, eventually to scrap value.

DeRousse calculates that vehicles should be replaced when keeping the vehicle in service ceases to be cost effective. His cost-cycling calculations are not hard and fast, as there are several variables involved. His rule of thumb for patrol vehicle replacement is projected at seven years, or 100,000 miles, and four years or 100,000 miles for “hot-seated” (24/7) operated vehicles.

Some of the variables include age and mileage of the vehicle, the environment in which it is operating, if the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds over half the value of the vehicle, or, of course, if the vehicle is involved in a major accident. Exceptions may be made if the vehicle has exceptional value, such as a mobile command vehicle.

DeRousse runs his shops as a “stand alone” business, with 26 employees and a parts operation. While his shop bills the city or Transit District for all services performed, he constantly tries to be competitive in price compared with outside vendors to provide better service to the taxpayers and keep the fleet in operation with the minimum amount of downtime.

An example is a standard preventative maintenance service on a Ford Crown Victoria. DeRousse concedes that an outside “quickie-lube” company could conduct an oil and filter change for a lot less than the $170 that his shop currently charges. However, leaving the vehicle at the “quickie lube” will tie up the vehicle—and the officer’s time—for a 15- to 30-minute period.

Then the vehicle must be sent to the dealership for the rest of the manufacturer- and agency-specified preventative maintenance service and inspection, further tying up either officers’ or technicians’ time while the vehicle is out of service even longer, depending on when the dealer can schedule the P.M.

Thus, the $19.95 “quickie lube” service would eventually cost more in the long run once vehicle downtime and officer’s and/or technician’s time costs are calculated into this—let alone the fact that the emergency response vehicle will be removed from service for a much longer period of time. Additionally, when DeRousse’s shop completes the vehicle’s P.M., the vehicle is washed and fueled—keeping the cops happy.

DeRousse held an additional session covering operating costs and budgets, discussing the pros and cons of “in-house” versus outsourcing or privatizing vehicle maintenance. Document! Document! Document! Those three words should be engraved in the mind of every fleet manager, and DeRousse knows to the penny the operating costs of his operation and how to provide the best possible service for the taxpayer’s dollars.

Additionally, DeRousse can immediately pull up the required information to back up his facts—just in case his superiors need proof that his operation is providing the most “bang” for the taxpayer’s buck. He also stressed that utilizing quality fleet management and vehicle tracking software is paramount in tracking costs and maintaining maximum efficiency.

Agency Sessions

The frank and open agency sessions were divided into 1) municipal departments with fewer than 50 vehicles, 2) municipal departments with more than 50 vehicles and 3) county and state police or highway patrol. All three sessions encouraged feedback from officers, agencies, and fleet managers. Representatives of all three manufacturers were also in attendance to listen to complaints and comments, as well as to offer advice and discuss current and past service issues, recall campaigns, and Technical Service Bulletins (TSB).

Concerning the feasibility of “in-house” warranty issues, all three manufacturers, DaimlerChrysler (DCX), Ford, and GM, will allow individual fleets to perform warranty work. Ford sets three levels of warranty work: the pre-delivery inspection (PDI), minor repair work, and heavy mechanical work—to include everything.

Fleet managers need to contact their local manufacturer’s representative to walk through the finer points. But general guidelines for being an authorized warranty repair station may include, 1) a large enough fleet—at least 50 vehicles, 2) a letter of intent to the manufacturer, 3) cooperation with or formal approval from the local dealer and 4) a facility inspection to ensure that the facility has all of the proper tools and diagnostic equipment and that the technicians are properly trained.

Manufacturer’s Sessions

All three manufacturers held separate sessions discussing their newest and latest products, as well as discussions of past and current issues and concerns and solutions. Chevrolet’s Impala for 2007 will now have Active Fuel Management (AFM), which under part-throttle operation will cause cylinder deactivation of three of the V-6’s six cylinders. It was pointed out that under patrol conditions, AFM may not make much of a difference on the marked police vehicles as cops tend to drive them harder than the average driver. However, AFM may make a difference in the administrative/detective unit—especially with rising fuel costs.

The 2007 Tahoe’s 5.3L V-8 will now produce 235 hp, a 20-horsepower increase and will also have AFM. The 2WD, pursuit-certified Tahoe PPV has a police-specific frame and suspension, which makes the Tahoe sit a bit lower than the retail Tahoe. The new Tahoe will also use H-rated, Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires.

Ford Fleet said the CVPI would remain in production for the next few years, including a freshening for the 2009 model year. The 2007 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (CVPI) will essentially be a carry-over from the 2007.

DaimlerChrysler is slowly getting back into the police field after a long hiatus. To date, the company has sold about 3,500 police package and special service package Chargers and Magnums since their introduction last year. So far, there have been relatively few problems with the Charger/Magnum series.

In tire news, both Pirelli and Continental have started a national police tire program with essentially state bid pricing for these otherwise expensive police tires. Under this program, the 16-inch Pirelli P6 for the Impala is $75, while the 18-inch ContiProContact for the Charger/Magnum series is $100. These prices represent 50% discounts for police departments.

Factory Upfitting

All three manufacturers offered guidelines as to equipment placement, which is now becoming a critical issue given the airbag deployment issues and complexity of the vehicle electrical systems.

Upcoming roof airbags will make equipment placement even more critical as objects, such as older security screens and wiring harnesses, will no longer be able to be placed in close proximity of the “B” or “C” pillars or near where the roof-rail airbags can deploy.

In many ways, the “turn-key” vehicle upfitted by the manufacturer’s authorized upfitter makes sense as the vehicle is upfitted completely within the manufacturer’s recommendations and requirements, and the installation is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Additionally, in the day of liability and frivolous lawsuits, factory-approved upfitting is one less item that lawyers can sink their teeth in.

Before the vehicle is ordered, carefully consider what options are needed. It is much easier to make changes at this stage than after the vehicle is assembled.

Emergency Vehicle Technician

A person must be properly licensed and certified to become an electrician or plumber—but not to be an auto mechanic. In contrast, many European countries, and Canada require mechanics to demonstrate that they have the proper skills and competency before being allowed to work on motor vehicles.

Although the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification in the U.S. is a voluntary program, it is a step in the right direction. While ASE certification covers basic vehicle certification—brakes, suspension, electrical, heating and air conditioning—until recently, there was no certification process for installers of law enforcement equipment on emergency vehicles, let alone standards.

Stephen Wilde, president of EVT Certifications Inc., explained how his nonprofit organization tests and certifies emergency vehicle installers and technicians. In addition to police vehicles, EVT also certifies fire apparatus, ambulance, and Airport Rescue/Fire Fighter (ARFF) installers and technicians, and he also issues a Management Certificate.

While there are no current set standards for certification of emergency equipment on vehicles, some agencies are now insisting that the equipment on their vehicles is installed by people who hold EVT Master Certificates, as part of the bid process.

The EVT certification does not replace an ASE certificate, but the organization does work with ASE. People desiring certification must be certified by ASE in automotive suspension, steering, brakes, engine repair, electrical, heating, air conditioning, and engine performance before being eligible to take the certification test. Wilde believes that if a person is competent to install the equipment properly, then he should be able to pass the certification test.

Currently, there are only 275 certified law enforcement equipment installers in the U.S. Testing is done twice a year at one of the 150 test sites situated across the country. Proper certification will raise installation standards of emergency equipment, which benefits both the agency and the installers.

Diagnostics

Vehicles are becoming more and more complex, and with the increase in electronics and computer controls in vehicles, electronic diagnostic troubleshooting is not only the current trend but the wave of the future. Fleet managers who don’t have access to such diagnostic equipment often are forced to outsource repairs to a dealer or savvy independent shop; this equates to excessive downtime and the loss of potential revenue.

Larry Baber, manager of Government Fleet Service for DaimlerChrysler, Scott Clark, the modified vehicle specialist for Ford, and Andrew Bunch of Vetronix explained and demonstrated they types of diagnostic systems and equipment available. One of the requirements of all three auto manufacturers to allow in-house warranty work from a fleet is for the maintenance facility to have the proper diagnostic equipment. There are also different systems out there—CAN, OBD-1, OBD-2… and as time and technology progresses, we are going to see new and different systems and upgrades.

Vetronix, which is a division of Bosch, offers diagnostic scanners that will cover 90% of O.E. vehicles, including GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler. This is important if the fleet is composed of different makes and models of vehicles. Agencies with one make, type and year-grouping of vehicles in their fleets may need to have only one type of diagnostic scanner, but fleets that have multiple makes of vehicles, and/or older vehicles may require diagnostic scanners that have the capability to handle these different types of vehicles. In this situation, a “Master-Tech” unit should be used. Currently, some of these systems along with electronic service information can be updated by Internet-based databases. Some systems also have the capability to update and reflash (reprogram) Electronic Control Units (ECU) with the latest upgrades. An additional feature aids auto theft investigators as some of these systems have the capability of retrieving the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from the ECU on vehicles where the license plates and VIN labels have been removed or if other identifying numbers have been obliterated or altered.

Andrew Bunch of Vetronix pointed out that Star Mobile, a wireless hand-held device, has all of the features of larger units, such as the company’s Star Scan. It can be used in the vehicle while it is in operation, which is important when trying to track down an intermittent problem. The operator can punch a button when the problem occurs, return the unit and vehicle to the shop and download the information to a computer.

Black Box Technology

Black box technology has arrived in automobile crashes…sort of. Rick Ruth, Ford’s manager of Environmental Safety Engineering, explained how Ford’s event data recorder (EDR) works. Unlike a flight data recorder (or “black box”) in aircraft incidents, the EDR does not record interior conversations. Initially, the EDR was designed to offer the manufacturer feedback on airbag deployments.

The manufacturers have had EDRs going back for about 10 years, initially intended to record specific information pertaining to collisions such as airbag and seat-belt pretensioner deployment. Currently, they also record speed, rate of acceleration/deceleration, brake application, and throttle position before, during, and after a collision. There are different versions and generations of EDRs, and the information they can provide depends on the type of EDR and on the year, make and model of the vehicle.

The information stored in the EDRs can greatly assist the accident investigator and/or reconstructionist in determining what the driver’s actions were just before and during the collision. And yes, we are going to see more EDRs out there as the National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) is moving to require that all vehicles be equipped with EDRs by 2011.

The big debate is about who has access to this information and how it is obtained. First off, the information is NOT available through your local dealer. Vetronix currently offers a data retrieval system, software and training.

Many agencies that extensively cover accident investigations and reconstruction may be able to access the information—if it is available or supported by Vetronix. Ford will also be able to interpret information on Ford vehicles not supported by Vetronix, but the unit needs to be sent to Ford engineers—who will charge for their time. Currently, their fees run about $1,000 per incident.

Legal issues change constantly. If the owner of the vehicle gives consent to retrieve the information, there shouldn’t be a problem in obtaining it. In situations where the vehicle owner is unwilling or unable to give consent, then legal process—a search warrant, subpoena, or court order—must be obtained.

Rick Ruth cautions not to rely exclusively on EDR information, as several factors may give erroneous or no information, and for the accident investigator to evaluate whatever evidence is obtained against the information stored in the EDR. The EDR must be powered up for at least 2 seconds before the collision, and if the battery is compromised during the collision, information may not be stored. Erroneous information may be reported if the vehicle leaves the road or is involved in a roll-over accident—brake and speed data from this type of incident may be erroneous.

Otherwise, speed information should be accurate to within 3% (+/-), as is required by law. With the new-generation airbags and seat-belt pretensioners, erroneous information may be reported if the occupant “tricks” the airbags by sitting on the buckled seat-belt/shoulder harness assembly or uses a seat-belt extender plugged into the buckle assembly, to avoid wearing the belt/harness assembly.

With pretensioners and the current generation “smart” airbags, deployment may occur at different speeds depending on the collision forces involved, weight of the occupant(s) and if the active restraint system (belt and harness) was used at the time of the collision. Other erroneous information may be obtained if the vehicle was involved in an earlier collision and the codes were not cleared.

Information stored in Ford EDRs should be retained for about 200 ignition key cycles (starting and stopping the engine) after an airbag/pretensioner deployment. It is suggested that if this information is to be used to shut off the ignition, disconnect the battery and secure the vehicle.

Fleet Management

Leslie Rucker, national director for Fleet Management Consulting, Asset Solutions Division of Maximus®, explained in his Fleet Management Overview session that it is difficult for fleet managers to cut costs without parking a portion of the fleet. Rucker constructed a pie graph with the estimated costs of a typical agency’s fleet.

Ownership was almost half the budget at 40% to 50%. Maintenance and repair came in second at 33%. Fuel was 19%. Rentals were 2.5%. Personal vehicle use was 1.5%, while administrative costs made up 1%. With oil prices taking a hefty toll on funding and “the bean counters” always demanding that budgets be trimmed, fleet managers will soon recognize their relative lack of control over costs like fuel.

One trick of running a fleet in an efficient and cost-effective manner is to know the right time to replace aging vehicles. Everyone knows that cars depreciate as soon as they are driven off the lot, but as the vehicle ages, the rate of depreciation lowers. Fleet managers should take advantage of that time in a vehicle’s lifecycle when the depreciation levels off, before the maintenance costs too much. According to Rucker’s calculations, that time is after four years or between 100,000 miles and 120,000 miles.

Another crucial role of the fleet manager is to create and execute a preventative maintenance program. The more time and money invested in a vehicle in the form of oil changes and tune ups will pay off immeasurably in the long run. But while money is often the central theme in day-to-day decision making, fleet managers must not forget that their most important duty is keeping the vehicles safe for the officers.

Liability Issues

Janis Christensen, the director corporate of fleet management consulting at CAFM, and Dave Robertson, the senior consultant at CAFM, stressed to the attendees of the Police Fleet Expo that they are not attorneys. But just because most fleet managers don’t have law degrees doesn’t mean they couldn’t find themselves in court.

Christensen referenced an NHTSA statistic that says more officers are killed and injured in vehicle-related incidents than any other law enforcement activity. This is why fleet managers are so vital to an agency, and it is the reason they could be named in lawsuits.

Fleet manager civil liabilities under tort law include negligent supervision or failure to train technicians. Government administrators and supervisors can be held personally liable for actions of subordinates if they knew or should have known of the existence of a matter of gross abuse and did nothing after having such knowledge; or if they actually participated in the wrongdoing.

Having written policies and procedures reduces the risk of liability, as does understanding federal and state legal standards, being aware of statements such as “violation of departmental policy,” following polices consistently, and communicating them in a timely and accurate fashion.

Training is a key issue in avoiding lawsuits. As long as the mechanics are maintaining and upfitting the vehicles properly and the officers are driving safely, no one is likely to be sued. So it is important to follow industry training standards, while documenting training activities and evaluating the progress to reduce the risk.

Emergency Preparedness

Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina were presented by Lieutenant George “C Bo” Dean of the Louisiana State Police, Lieutenant Robert Montgomery of the Duluth, GA Police and Sergeant Dave Callery of the New York State Police. All three presented their experiences as responding officers going into the disaster area from the outside. The lessons were, 1) have a plan, 2) keep it straightforward, 3) plan for worst-case scenarios and 4) plan for things to go wrong.

About three days before Hurricane Katrina hit, the LSP made arrangements to stockpile the obvious—fuel, batteries, tires, alternators, along with other vital spare parts. Fuel contamination with water was another issue, calling for fuel additives. Fuel was sometimes pumped from underground tanks that had been saturated with floodwater.

Another point was to keep meticulous records on everything because when things settle down, the question comes up as to who gets paid for what, who gets overtime, etc. The other side of the coin is collecting payment from the appropriate agency, in this case, FEMA. Anticipate that the computer system will crash, and be prepared to revert to manual record-keeping if the system fails. Another reason for meticulous record-keeping is that sooner or later, everything will be audited—especially when other agencies become involved.

Another pre-planning step is to make sure that shop facilities are safe, secure, and free from debris that could be catapulted by high winds to cause further damage or injury. Ensure that emergency lighting and back-up generators are operable, topped off with fuel, and that adequate fuel supplies are available. Also ensure that personnel have adequate supplies, equipment, protective clothing for adverse weather conditions, flashlights, batteries, and other necessities.

The LSP, in addition to servicing their own vehicles, serviced the vehicles of all of the local and assisting agencies, generating about 26,000 repair orders on equipment during the following 90 days.

Tires! Tires! Tires! All of the debris lying around quickly destroyed tires in short order, and the LSP went through 3,000 tires in 90 days. Under those conditions, tires were slapped on and not balanced. With the low-speed driving conditions, balancing wasn’t an issue. And non-standard repairs? You can repair a sidewall puncture in a radial tire with a plug, and many tires were repaired that way, because few spares were available.

A final note on Katrina is that two pieces of technology became critical: Nextel phones and GPS devices. Responding officers from outside the area, some as far away as British Columbia, obviously wouldn’t be familiar with the area. Even for those who were, the flooding washed away many roads, buildings and most other landmarks. The basics of communication and knowing where you are and where you are needed became critical issues during the emergency response.

Sampling of New Products

The exhibition included displays from the vehicle manufacturers, including Harley-Davidson’s new line of police motorcycles, as well as various law enforcement upfitters and equipment manufacturers dealing with lighting and warning systems, video cameras, brake supplies, aftermarket alternators, power management systems, weapons racks, push bumpers, security cages, radar, spotlights, and a multitude of additional emergency vehicle equipment.

New and exciting law enforcement products include advanced electronics and, of course, one of the hot topics in law enforcement vehicles—brakes. Cryogenic brake rotors are becoming more and more popular, and we are seeing new companies that are either selling or cryogenically treating brake components. New companies include US Cryogenics and 300 Below Cryogenic Tempering Services.

The Affinia Group, which markets Raybestos®, and the fleet division, Aimco®, have come out with a police-specific brake pad. Another brand on display, which dates back to the 1960s, is the Wellman Products Group, which distributes VelveTouch® pads. The pads use carbon semi-metallic technology, offering better friction performance at higher temperatures and are certified to meet FMVSS 135 standards on the Crown Victoria platform.

MNStar, a manufacturer of emergency vehicle wiring harnesses now has harnesses available for DCX’s new Charger and Magnum, as well for the Harley-Davidson police motorcycles. Additionally, MNStar is now manufacturing custom wiring harnesses for large agencies that used to design and manufacture their own harnesses, including the California Highway Patrol, Nevada Highway Patrol, Los Angeles and San Francisco Police Departments.

Whelen came out with the new trick LED HALO™ lighting system that fits in the front turn-signal sockets for 2006 and later Crown Victoria. From the outside, it appears to be a turn signal bulb, but according to agency needs and requirements, it can be either red or blue. When turn signal function is desired, the flashing amber will override the emergency light function—a neat way of hiding the emergency lighting of an undercover vehicle.

Federal Signal introduced its Argent S2 Lightbar, featuring reliable onboard circuitry. ROC technology is microprocessor-controlled. The lightbar offers a simplified design—eliminating up to 85% of potential failure points with fewer electrical connectors and modular replacement segments for simplified repair and maintenance. Using new and improved Solaris™ S2 reflectors, the Argent S2 offers greater off-axis lighting.

PulseTech® markets battery chargers and conditioning devices for automotive batteries since 1994. Its SolarPulse™ system involves solar cells mounted on top of the lightbar, which helps to “trickle-charge” the battery during daytime hours when the vehicle is not in operation. Depending on the model and application needed, it charges up to 6 watts, which offsets the parasitic electrical drain that today’s vehicles have with computers and tire-inflation monitors.

This would also be ideal for a seldom-used vehicle, such as a mobile command post. While there is charging involved, it is at 22 to 28 KHz, which also conditions the battery by reducing sulphation—one of the killers of batteries. PulseTech® claims that SolarPower™ will extend battery life up to three times.

Unity Spotlights offers its Eye Beam™, which is mounted on top of a conventional windshield-posted spotlight. The Eye Beam™ contains motion sensors, which are three laser beams that monitor up to 35 feet in front of the patrol vehicle and sense motion when the driver’s door is opened, thus alerting the officer of a potential threat.

The 54Ward Integrated Solutions is a spin-off of the University of New Hampshire’s Project 54, where many of the emergency vehicle’s functions—computer, video camera, long-gun locks, license plate recognition, N.C.I.C., radio, lights, sirens, and radars—are integrated to be operated either by voice control or by touch-screen activation on the computer screen.

John Bellah is the technical editor of Police Fleet Manager and a corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police. He can be reached at jbellah@csulb.edu.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Sep/Oct 2006

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