Any busy police department needs to concentrate on its core function—serving the community. As a result, other important functions, such as fleet administration, often take a back seat.
Yet for police departments, fleet vehicles and related equipment are mission-critical capital assets that have a direct and significant impact on achieving this core function. That is okay up to a point, yet the community also demands that you spend whatever funding that’s provided wisely. As a result, it’s vital that your fleet operations run efficiently.
As is often the case, the key to improving operational efficiency is through the use of computerized systems, reducing to an absolute minimum the amount of data input and book-keeping, while giving you the maximum amount of easy reporting. The goal is to allow you to make decisions based on all the facts, without having to spend your time as a glorified clerk.
When looking at the vast array of fleet management systems available, it quickly becomes apparent that most fleet systems are geared toward trucking fleets. When looking for fleet management systems that are built for the unique needs of the law enforcement community, here are 10 requirements you might want to keep in mind:
1. Easy reporting. There is an old saying in the private sector, “What you don’t measure, you can’t manage.” This is very true when it comes to managing a diverse law enforcement fleet. Your fleet management system must allow you to easily draw off useful reports at the touch of a button, enabling you to quickly make decisions to continually increase the efficiency of your department, while making life a lot easier for you!
2. Keeping track of equipment. No one knows better than you just how much equipment your department uses every incident-packed day. Cruisers at a minimum are outfitted with radios yet often include lots of other equipment, including video surveillance, VASCAR/Radar/Lidar, mobile data terminals and even gun-racks. A flexible, purpose-made fleet management information system will allow you keep track of all that expensive equipment, giving you an at-a-glance visibility over where everything is at any one time. Which radio is in which vehicle? You’ll know at a glance!
3. Getting the most out of your fleet. Having a system to keep an eye on how much it’s costing to run your fleet will help you get the best value from the vehicles you use. A fleet management system will help ensure that suppliers provide good value, as well. For example, do you run a vehicle until it drops, or do you sell it while there’s still enough value to appeal to a used car buyer, getting something back? Would an alternative supplier offer better value and improved service compared to the vendor you’re currently using?
4. Replacement modeling. In order to maximize fleet efficiency, you need to be able to critically view the complete lifecycle of your vehicles, to determine the most cost-effective time to replace or dispose of each unit. Vehicle depreciation is likely the largest cost of all, and anything you can do to minimize this is going to save your department a lot of money. With a flexible fleet management system, you can model various scenarios and initiate numerous “what if?” exercises. Additionally, you can run reports showing how much your current vehicle lifecycle is saving and why.
5. On the desk, or on the move? Do you store your department’s data on a single computer back at headquarters, or would it make more sense to be able to access fleet operating data from anywhere, at any time? The most up-to-date fleet management systems allow you to store your data securely on a remote server, allowing you to remotely manage the fleet, accessing data, drawing off reports, etc. via the Internet. If the territory you cover is large, this capability will allow you to work on the go, keeping tabs on manpower and equipment as you travel.
6. Who has been assigned to which vehicles? What vehicle is being used by which patrolman or department? With constant staffing changes and adjustments, keeping track of vehicle assignments can be a major headache, distracting you from more pressing police business. With a flexible Web-based fleet management system, patrol officers and department heads can take over responsibility for which vehicles and equipment they’ve been assigned and what they’re doing with it—freeing you from the task of entering all this information into the fleet management system. Users can access the fleet system from their desks or remote locations—handling vehicle assignments and running selected reports when they need them, removing the need to request this information from a central office.
7. Real-time visibility of fleet running costs. We have already touched on enhancing vehicle lifecycle costs, but what about the day-to-day running costs of the department’s fleet? A comprehensive fleet management system will help you report to your superiors how the fleet is being used and that the fleet is being optimized to run as efficiently as possible.
8. What is the fleet going to cost next year? No budget is ever big enough! You can always do with more resources, more staff and more equipment. What if costs continue to rise sharply or your budget gets cut back? What impact will these changes have? Can savings in one area be used to ease the financial burden on another part of the department? Again, a flexible fleet management system allows you to carry out as many “what if?” scenarios as needed.
9. Reminders. During a busy day, important tasks are often forgotten, but that can lead to expensive omissions. You know the feeling—the insurance needs renewing, preventive maintenance or safety inspections are due, or a warranty claim or manufacturers recall needs to be followed up by a certain date? Let the fleet management system remind you when key tasks are pending, due or past due.
10. Driver efficiency? Isn’t it strange how some officers manage to get excellent fuel consumption, while others seem to be driving cruisers that are twice as thirsty? And look at the cost of maintenance! One officer’s cruiser hardly needs any repairs whenever it’s in the shop for preventive maintenance, while the next officer’s cruiser seems to need major repairs on a monthly basis. Running comparisons between officers and cruisers and developing “benchmarks” for fuel consumption, and maintenance will help careless officers mend their ways.
Like all operational areas within a busy police department, the fleet department needs flexible and robust tools to maximize the return on the taxpayers’ investment. By selecting and implementing a comprehensive fleet management system, you will be able to more efficiently predict, control and manage the ever-increasing costs of running a diverse police fleet.Ron Katz is the vice president of North America Sales for Chevin Fleet Solutions, a global provider of Fleet Management Information Systems (FMIS). He has 28 years of fleet and maintenance management experience. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.