Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Police vehicles: purchase and storage

The average Kansas City Police Department vehicle has 140,000 miles on it, according to an internal audit of our fleet conducted in February. And those are 140,000 hard, stop-start, sirens-blaring miles. Many people trade in their cars long before they reach that point. In fact, many police agencies auction off their vehicles at 77,000 miles. But we feel it’s fiscally responsible to keep ours for as long as possible. Many are well over the 200,000-mile mark. We must be in a constant cycle of replacing these vehicles so that officers can respond to 911 calls as quickly as possible in a functioning, safe and reliable car. The safety of the community is dependent upon our fleet’s reliability.

In the 2008-09 fiscal year, the police department requested $4.5 million from the city to begin replacing our aging, high-mileage fleet. The city gave us $1 million. So we bought what we could. But then a pleasant surprise happened. Gas prices dropped precipitously. Near the end of the 08-09 fiscal year, we realized a savings of close to $1 million. We notified the city’s Budget Office of these anticipated savings and informed them we would be using the money to purchase more vehicles (at the cost of about $21,000 each), with the approval of the Board of Police Commissioners. We knew the budget would be grim for this FY 09-10 fiscal year and that purchasing any cars at all would be unlikely. So we wanted to use what money we had to get the cars when we could. The money could not be carried over into the next fiscal year and thus could not fund the salaries of any officers. We did not return this money to the city because they under-funded our vehicle purchase budget by $3.5 million in the first place.

The members of the Board of Police Commissioners unanimously approved these vehicle purchases in their public meeting. The purchase was an item on the agenda sent to all media outlets and posted on the department’s Web site, There was nothing secretive about it. An article on the front page of the Kansas City Star today states that the Board of Police Commissioners’ president was unavailable for comment. However, that reporter did interview the Board’s vice president, Karl Zobrist. Mr. Zobrist indicated that he and all of his fellow board members did indeed approve of the vehicle purchase. He told the reporter it was “good management.” The reporter chose not to put this in his story, and we feel it was an important omission.

The reason the new cars are in storage is because city budget cuts have reduced our Communication Support Section’s staff by almost 50 percent. This section is in charge of installing all equipment on police cars, including radios, computers, light bars, rifle racks and more. Nearly half of the employees there retired in May through an early retirement program we were forced to offer due to our budget being cut $15 million. Due to our hiring freeze, we cannot fill their positions. Communication Support technicians can now only outfit three to four cars a month with all of their needed police equipment. They pull them out of the storage facilities as soon as they can get to them, and the vehicles are deployed to the fleet as soon as they’re ready. Communications Support technicians also have to handle all repairs to equipment for the entire city including our fleet, the Fire Department, Public Works, the Airport and other non-public safety agencies within the city.

We did not authorize photos to be taken of the cars in storage because they are in a non-public area, and we are concerned about the safety of our assets. Many areas of the police department are not accessible to the public for safety reasons, including the Crime Lab, jail, under-cover operations and other areas. This was a similar situation.

In conclusion, this police department is committed to transparency. It’s one of our Critical Values. The purchase of these vehicles and the reasons for doing so were very public. We also are committed to the safety of this community. Reliable cars are a big – though rarely thought about – part of that.

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