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Cutting Car Costs

Despite often prohibitive operating requirements, police fleet managers can realize savings using tricks of the trade.

April 01, 2005  |  by Jon LeSage

Managers of police fleets deal with problems and challenges that their counterparts in private industry generally don’t have to face: tight budget constraints, vehicles constantly in motion or idling, specialty vehicles and equipment, and the requirement that fleet units be on the road 24/7 with backup vehicles always running and available.

Along with these constant operational demands, a police fleet manager must be able to work within the structure and culture of law enforcement. This can mean managing sworn and civilian staff and integrating the broader organizational management structure of the city (or other jurisdiction) with the specific culture and requirements of police work.

Keeping fleet operating costs under control is a top priority of police fleet managers, given the realities of budget shortfalls; however, with the 24/7 nature of patrol duty and other assignments, cutting operating costs can be a tall order. POLICE magazine spoke with fleet managers from large agencies throughout the country to find out how they do it.

Outsourcing Parts Operation

Michael Picardi, commissioner of the Department of Fleet Management for the City of Chicago, runs the entire city fleet operations: 13,000 pieces of equipment, approximately 4,000 of which are used by the Chicago Police Department. On Jan. 1, 2004, the police fleet became the final city agency to be integrated under the Department of Fleet Management. So far, the integration has been successful, Picardi says.

Picardi immediately included the police fleet under a parts outsourcing contract with the company NAPA Auto Parts. The program involved turning over the current parts inventory to NAPA, ordering and paying only for parts as needed.

This program allows the city to reduce its parts costs by automating the process and eliminating the need to restock the parts inventory, which can be wasteful and inefficient. It also means that police units are provided brand new parts. In the past, police fleet managers tried using salvage parts to save money. This brought with it hidden costs in replacement parts and labor when some of these salvage parts failed. Another problem: police officers didn’t feel as safe driving cars with used parts.

The NAPA system also facilitates warranty recovery. The Chicago PD fleet mainly operates Ford Crown Victoria patrol units. NAPA works closely with Ford to guarantee that the in-house warranty labor and parts are properly reimbursed to the city. During 2004, the city realized about $600,000 in warranty reimbursement related to the police fleet. Overall, the Department of Fleet Management has saved about $1 million for the police fleet as a consequence of its consolidation within the larger fleet operation through warranty recovery, the NAPA parts program, and other efficiencies of scale.

Another achievement coming out of the fleet integration is reducing the stock of out-of-service police units. Previously, the police fleet had 200 to 250 out-of-service units on a daily basis—vehicles that were being serviced and repaired. Picardi and his staff have lowered that number to 150 per day, a big improvement.

They accomplished this goal through enhancing the preventive maintenance (PM) program (a must, with all of the idling and stop-and-go driving), moving cars around the city to where they can be best utilized, and implementing a new policy. If a car comes in for service and it takes more than a half hour, it will be replaced with a spare. The fleet staff works hard to carefully monitor the number of out-of-service units, balancing them against the number of spares. “With a police fleet,” Picardi says, “you’re only as good as the number of spares you have available.”

Carefully Tracking Units

The San Diego Police Department runs about 1,600 pieces of equipment, 550 of which are marked patrol units, mainly Crown Vics. Since taking over the reins of the police fleet, Police Fleet Administrator John Alley has implemented a system of what he calls “micromanaging” each unit to make sure they’re getting the correct maintenance and service work and coming out of service at the right mileage interval.

Alley and his staff of 80 fleet employees utilize eight shops around the city to stay on top of vehicle servicing. Alley has been able to reduce maintenance and repair costs and lower the number of out-of-service units by using a computerized system to track each vehicle.

“We run bi-weekly, monthly, and annual cost reports on each vehicle and each type of vehicle,” Alley says. Alley and his staff carefully analyze and track these reports to look for trends with certain vehicles, and to know when a specific vehicle needs to be pulled for PM or more extensive service work.

Mechanics can authorize up to $200 and supervisors up to $500 without authorization for repairs and service. Beyond these amounts, the expenditure has to be authorized by a manager who takes into account the value of the vehicle and its mission requirements.

The San Diego PD uses a pool operation. Cars are assigned by shift and don’t stay with a specific officer. With overlap in shifts, some patrol units are running 10 to 20 hours a day, making tight PM procedures critical. Most units are serviced at 3,000- and 5,000-mile intervals, with different PM routines performed for each mileage level. Garage personnel use a standard paper checklist to guarantee all PM tasks are accomplished. With this type of pool operation, Alley and his fleet staff must also carefully make sure that no individual patrol unit is racking up high mileage; an overused patrol car might need to be re-deployed to a substation with lower mileage usage.

Another cost-saving strategy that Alley implemented was making sure nearly all of the fleet maintenance and repair work was done in house by city employees. “We do 95 percent of our maintenance in house,” he says. “The only functions outsourced are upholstery, radiators, and glass.” All body work is done by the department’s own body shops, a practice that has brought cost savings and time efficiencies to the fleet operations, given that police fleets are more prone to be involved in collisions than other types of fleets. The San Diego PD fleet also realizes substantial cost savings by having its in-house mechanics perform warranty work that is reimbursed by Ford and other OEMs.

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