INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The free ride is over for Indianapolis police officers.
Starting Dec. 1, the city will charge most officers a monthly fee for their take-home cars.
The surcharge was negotiated with the Fraternal Order of Police and is expected to save the city about $1.3 million a year in fuel and maintenance costs.
“This was the result of months of negotiation and we had to strike a balance that brought significant revenue without gouging the officers,” said Valerie Washington, chief financial officer for the Department of Public Safety.
Efforts to reach FOP officials Thursday were unsuccessful.
The charge will range from $64 a month to $150 a month depending on how officers use their cars and where they live. About one-fourth of IMPD’s 1,795 officers – who use the cars only to go to work and back – will continue to get them free.
A city ordinance allowing the surcharge has been on the books, but never applied, since 2008, though it has been broached occasionally as an untapped source of revenue.
But with the city facing a $65 million budget deficit next year, Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration moved forward with the surcharge as a gap-plugging measure.
The IMPD rings up about $12 million a year on gas and maintenance for squad cars each year. So far this year, it has spent $5.4 million on fuel and $2.9 on garage work.
“(Savings from the surcharge is) not a lot compared to the large cost but it’s more than we are getting now,” Washington said.
A majority of police officers take home their work car though they are not required to. The department and city official said citizens feel more secure seeing police car parked on their block.
“I think it really deters crime,” said mayoral spokesman Marc Lotter. “Who wants to take a chance committing a crime if they see two police cars on the street?”
It also simplifies things for the officers, Washington said, because they are able to keep their police equipment in one spot.
“They don’t have to switch from their personal car to their police car everytime they come to work or get called out an emergency from home,” she said.
The surcharge also applies to 33 firefighters who take home vehicles. They include on-call dive team and incident commanders and auto mechanics.
“This is something our firefighters think is fair and support,” said Chief Brian Sanford.
The police officers will be charged different rates depending on how frequently they use their cars. Officers who use it to drive to work – an estimated 25 percent – won’t be charged.
Officers who use cars for personal errands or for an off-duty job that doesn’t require driving will pay $64 a month. Those who have to drive their cars on patrol for their off-duty jobs will be charged $128 a month.
The fee is $128 a month if the officer lives outside of Marion County and has an off-duty jobs that doesn’t require driving. If the job includes patrols the fee is $150.
The new policy dovetails with the sensitive police issue of moonlighting cops.
More than 900 officers work off-duty jobs and city officials have said they would like to be compensated for lending out their city resources to businesses that hire their officers.
But a proposal by former Mayor Bart Peterson six years ago to charge businesses a surcharge was opposed by the police union and died. The union said businesses would hire fewer officers because of the higher cost.
Washington said new Public Safety Director Troy Riggs plans to “take a look at the issue” of off-duty rules but said it and the gas surcharge are “two separate issues.”
Washington acknowledged that the new has surcharge will depend largely on the honor system.
The department will take an officers word if he says he uses his car only to get to work or has a side job that doesn’t require patrols.
But she said the IMPD has the ability to double check against an officer’s off-duty work permit and it will punish officers who aren’t using cars as they said they were.
“It could mean taking away the car for a period of time,” she said. “It’s still something that’s being discussed.”
Several other Indiana cities allow police to take their cars home and handful charge them for gas. Last year, the Marion County sheriff began charging deputies $75 a month for their take home cars – $150 per month of they used them for outside work.
In Evansville, Sgt. Jason Cullum said officers are charged $260 a year if they live in the city and $494 if they live outside it.
But in Fort Wayne, the Police Benevolence Association sued the city when it tried to impose a surcharge of $50 a month in 2008, said Chief Rusty.
“It got real messy,” York said. “Of course this was before city’s stared laying off police and fire and departments weren’t as ready to make a sacrifice.”
The city and the police union reached a settlement in 2009. The city will charge officers $25 a month when the price the city pays for gas reaches $3 a gallon.
“We’re at $2.99 now but that price is locked in through 2013,” York said. “So the cars are still free.”