North Miami Beach ends take-home police car program

NORTH MIAMI BEACH, FL &#8211 For about five years, Officer Michael Pons of the North Miami Beach Police Department drove the same patrol vehicle to work from his home in Broward.

He drove about 56,000 miles in that time.

But as of Jan.9 Pons and about 89 of the 98 officers at the department turned in their take-home vehicles under a new pool car system that requires officers to drive to and from work in their own vehicles..

City Manager Lyndon Bonner started the policy as a way to save money on gas, maintenance and other expenses.

A study done by the city estimates cost of purchasing new vehicles will go from $473,850 annually to $255,528 under the pool car system.

But Pons, who is the local representative for the International Union of Police Associations, said the plan puts savings over safety.

He said officers reporting for their shifts will now be required to transfer equipment such as laptops and safety gear to the city vehicle. He said at the start of each shift, each car needs to be checked for things like tire pressure and oil levels. Pons said the car swap takes about half an hour, time they could be spending responding to calls.

“Citizens should be upset police service is being affected by individuals who are anticipating savings at a cost of life,” said Pons, who says that detectives won’t be able to respond to crime scenes as soon as they’re called in. They would have to first check in at the station and pick up a city car.

Bonner said the new policy shouldn’t eat into response time.

“I don’t know if it’s real or a knee jerk reaction to change,” said Bonner. “I don’t think it should take 30 minutes.”

The city used a study University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill of the City of Tacoma Police Department in Washington on take-home policy to back its changes.

The study recommended the Tacoma Police Department stay with an assigned car system, rather than pool car system, noting city would save money it would otherwise spend on constructing parking for the cars.

Assistant City Manager Mac Serda said part of the reason for the decision to use pool cars was that the city and the union couldn’t agree on mileage officers pay the city in exchange for using the cars to commute. For example, an officer living within 40 miles would pay $15 a week; officers living more than 40 miles away would pay $25 a week.

The city was hoping to raise the amount, which union objected to.

“We met with the union and we could not agree on a milage rate that was economically neutral to the city,” said Serda, adding officers were paying a rate depending on their distance from city limits. “So we are okay with officers taking vehicles home if it’s not a burden to the city and tax payer.”

The department has also reduced the number of vehicles in its fleet from 150 to 50, with the extra vehicles remaining in storage.

“We believe there is a savings there,” said Bonner. “It’s going to take a few months to see what they are.”

Some of the surplus vehicles may be sold.

According to a study by the Southwest Florida Center for Public and Social Policy at Florida Gulf Coast University of the Cape Coral Police Department, it can take between 28 and 40 minutes per day for equipment to be transferred from one vehicle to another.

The study was against the pool car system because of its impacts on office morale, visibility of officers in the community and the overall costs of maintaining a car. It went on to find an assigned vehicle policy program “is the most cost effective” in the short and long term.

“There are both sides,” Bonner said. “There are jurisdictions that have done it and I think the model will save us some money. We are not stupid enough to ram something down someone’s throat if the model showed it wouldn’t save money.”

If the pool car system doesn’t work, and no money is saved, the city will look into other cost saving measures.

“Let’s see how this experiment works out from productivity and cost saving,” Serda said

From The Miami Herald.