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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

Managing the Huge NYPD Fleet

The New York Police Department operates possibly the largest police fleet in the country, with about 7,760 units. Nearly 60 percent of these units are marked and unmarked patrol vehicles. The police fleet vehicles are used by more than 39,000 sworn officers.

“The biggest challenge for such a diversified fleet is availability of parts,” says Director Leonard Lesko. “NYPD has several methods of parts procurement in place to minimize downtime. Additionally, a number of procedures are in place to continually monitor vehicles requiring special orders.” The agency utilizes a contract to access parts from various warehouses around New York City. Parts are delivered daily directly to various repair facilities, minimizing the need to stock large quantities at each location. The system also has the added benefit of freeing up stockroom space in their facilities, Lesko says.

In terms of reducing fleet operating costs, the NYPD closely follows a six-point program, Lesko says: outsourcing selective repairs; purchasing extended manufacturer warranty repairs on most vehicles; performing warranty repairs in house for OEM reimbursement; utilizing a “best practice” system for repairs; leasing certain categories of vehicles and purchasing others as it makes the most sense on a financial basis; and operating a thorough and extensive PM program.

Preventive maintenance is performed based on each vehicle’s mission profile. For example, vehicles that idle while performing security functions at a sensitive location require PM intervals scheduled by hours of operation as opposed to the mileage criteria that a Highway Patrol vehicle might fall under.

The NYPD has been able to successfully utilize a salvage parts program, which makes use of parts retrieved from relinquished fleet vehicles. The program provides used parts when new parts aren’t immediately available, and further decreases downtime by providing pre-assembled and painted body parts for collision repairs.

Managing vehicle lifecycles and in-service periods is a critical function for containing operating costs. For the NYPD, vehicle replacement criteria are based on vehicle condition and cost-effectiveness of repairs. The number of vehicles kept beyond their intended lifecycle roughly equals the number that relinquished early due to accident or excessive wear.

Reducing Fuel Expense

Managing a police fleet in a large city has its own set of demands. But what about managing fleet operations throughout an entire state? State police vehicles put on a lot of miles patrolling highways and providing services in widely dispersed areas.

The Pennsylvania State Police operates a fleet of about 3,000 units consisting of patrol cars, vans, support vehicles, and motorcycles. Like most statewide police agencies, the Pennsylvania State Police patrols the state’s highways, provides direct police services to unincorporated areas, and performs a variety of investigative and support services, sometimes in conjunction with other agencies operating in the state.

This widely dispersed fleet is managed through a network of 16 troops and 14 bureaus located throughout the state. Each of the 16 troops is overseen by a commanding officer, which names an automotive officer responsible for fleet maintenance and daily operations. Each of the 16 troops reports to the commanding officer of each troop. Rick Binker, automotive officer for Pennsylvania State Police, assists the Department in setting the policy and assisting the troops in the enforcement of policies and procedures.

With the governor’s mandate that all state agencies review spending practices, Binker had to review all fleet policies and procedures to find savings. “Maintenance is where we found the biggest return,” Binker says. The Department implemented new policies for oil change intervals, checking brakes every 6,000 miles, and servicing transmissions every 30,000 miles. Servicing transmissions is especially important for a state police agency because of patrol mileage and mission requirements.

Controlling fuel costs is very difficult with a police fleet. Patrols have to be carried out, emergencies responded to, and vehicles many times must be kept running to power all the on-board equipment. The Pennsylvania State Police was able to realize fuel savings through a special order that the Department issued in July of last year. This new policy facilitated savings by encouraging car pooling to meetings, adding more stationary patrols if conditions warrant it, using videoconferencing when appropriate, removing unnecessary equipment from the trunks of vehicles to make them lighter, less idling especially in unoccupied vehicles, and strict enforcement of tune-ups and regular tire pressure monitoring.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s fleet operations, including all state agencies, along with municipalities and universities, benefit from purchasing new equipment and parts through contracts negotiated by the Department of General Services, which pools and leverages the state’s volume purchasing power. Binker, along with fleet managers of other state agencies, has participated in a “strategic sourcing” process through the Department of General Services, which requires fleet managers and other department heads to reevaluate their purchasing practices and vendor relationships, looking for ways to save more money. “It’s forced us to do things differently and still meet the needs of individual agencies,” Binker says.

Take-Home Program

The Daytona Beach (Fla.) Police Department operates 340 fleet vehicles: 140 marked Crown Vic patrol units, 16 motorcycles, 10 sport utility vehicles, and mainly unmarked cars for investigative and administrative duties (mainly Crown Vics and Chevy Impalas). While he maintains a smaller fleet than others profiled in this article, Fleet Manager Jon Crull faces the same mandates for cost cutting as his counterparts at major law enforcement agencies.

One of Crull’s biggest successes has been implementing a “Take Home” fleet vehicle program for both marked and unmarked vehicles in which officers take police vehicles home. The program, now in its fifth year, is about 70 percent of the way implemented. The program has given Daytona Beach officers a sense of ownership in their vehicles. “The user will keep the vehicle cleaner, inspect it on a regular basis, answer up to damage, and generally take more pride,” says Crull.

Maintenance and repair costs have gone down on the program vehicles. Officers take better care of the vehicles than pool cars, largely because no one else can be blamed for poor care. They also don’t run the vehicles as hard, which is better for fuel mileage. Another added benefit to the take-home program: it gives the public a perception of having more police presence throughout the city.

Like other police fleet managers, Crull is vigilant about vehicle maintenance. He directs his mechanics to pull wheels apart and check all the vulnerable parts including the steering gear, tie rods, suspension, brakes, mounts, and exhaust system. He uses the Faster system supplied by CCG Systems (of Norfolk, Va.), which allows the fleet to flag cars due for service, warranty issues, and parts replacement.

Crull and his staff have installed hour meters on each fleet vehicle to track usage. Crull has found that the number of hours a car is used is a more important indicator of necessary replacement cycles for fleet vehicles than mileage. Fleet vehicles for the Daytona Beach PD are generally pulled out of service for replacement after 7,000 hours of operation.

For all the differences at law enforcement agencies across the country, every police fleet can benefit from cost-saving measures. No matter how minimal the difference may seem, more efficient practices can only help, especially in these budget-tight times.

Jon LeSage is a freelancer based in Southern California. He has 15 years of experience as a journalist.

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