Making You a Target
That's a quick look at the disadvantages of take-home patrol cars from the point of view of police administrators. But there are also some concerns about take-home cars that affect individual officers.
Having a take-home unit is a great benefit for a cop. It gives you another car for your personal use. But that car is your responsibility, and you can bet that, should something happen to it, you will catch it from your higher-ups.
Also, parking a patrol car in your driveway is kind of the equivalent of putting a flag on your house that says, "Police officer lives here." Most likely, your neighbors and friends know that you are a cop, and that's not a problem. But when you park a cruiser in your driveway, every ticked off teenager with a dozen rotten eggs knows that your house is a cop's house. Worse, so does every scumbag who's looking for some payback.
Selling the Concept
Of course, more people than just patrol officers and their administrators are affected by a take-home police car program. The public will have opinions and any agency will need public support or at least local government buy-in to make a take-home patrol program a reality.
Citizen perceptions of safety are a huge consideration when proposing take-home cars. Some communities want the perceived higher police presence and are willing to foot the bill. Others are less than enthused.
For example, when 90 percent of local citizens said that they felt safe in their community, Virginia Beach administrators had a difficult time justifying the expenditure of take-home cars for the city's police department. In this case, both the police chief and city manager agreed that the projected costs of replacing the current fleet and contracting maintenance for new cars would be too high, and it was generally agreed that officers might be the only ones to gain from the program.
Conversely, a study commissioned by the city of Tacoma, Wash., concluded that by allowing police officers to drive to and from work in their patrol cars, the city saved approximately $200,000 per year.
Bruce Mann, a participant in the Tacoma study, notes that the issue is contentious, disputed, oft-argued, and emotionally charged. "The real public policy issue should be: Will the community be better off or not with an assigned vehicle program?"
There are a lot of variables involved, and Mann says it's critical that cities and counties do the math before making a decision about take-home cars. "The answer depends on program finances, local political and community objectives, as well as the operational needs of the department," he says.
And unfortunately, analyzing the cost-effectiveness of a take-home program is not easy to do, nor is the final product usually very definitive. "Many of the dollars involved can be measured with only moderate difficulty," Mann explains. "Calculating values of some benefits and costs is complex due to their indirect assessment or their subjective nature. Citizen perceptions of safety, the deterrent effect of police visibility, morale effects, and the value of alternative uses of funds all need to be considered in any assigned vehicle program evaluation."