After more than three decades working for the nation’s largest police fleet, Robert Martinez knows a thing or two about managing fleets. He retired from his position as deputy commissioner of support services for the New York City Police Department at the end of 2022.
Talking with Martinez, it’s clear he cares about the officers he placed in the department’s 10,000 vehicles. Vehicles in NYPD’s fleet must meet the mission and must be safe; that’s Martinez’s philosophy. What he won’t tell you, because he doesn’t want to be recognized for it, is that Martinez is responsible for several “firsts” in the industry, thanks to his background in engineering and his tendency to think outside the box.
Government Fleet had the honor of speaking with Martinez as he reflected on his time managing the fleet for New York’s finest. Here’s what he had to say.
Starting from the Bottom
Martinez could tell you the exact day he started with NYPD: June 23, 1986. He got his foot in the door with the department as an auto service worker, basically a mechanics’ helper, in his words. It was an entry-level job. After six months, the department moved Martinez up to a provisional mechanic, after watching him succeed at tasks he was given.
After two years on the job, Martinez became a permanent mechanic for the department. That gave him the chance to take the supervisor of mechanics test. When he failed to get a high enough score on that test, Martinez had to wait another five years to test again. This time, he was able to meet the standards and become a civil service employee for the NYPD. After 10 years as a mechanic, Martinez was promoted to a supervisor of mechanics. He then began being appointed to higher positions, eventually earning the title of director of the fleet services division.
In 2010, Martinez was asked to take over the support services bureau as executive director. Then 2014, he was promoted to deputy commissioner. He went from solely working with vehicles in the fleet division, to overseeing the entire support services bureau, moving from overseeing 400 employees to just under 900. It was the first time in NYPD’s history that a civilian was granted a two-start chief’s position moving from the fleet services division to the support services bureau at the department’s headquarters.
Back to the Classroom
While working with NYPD’s fleet, Martinez went back to school. He had previously started his Associate of Mechanical Engineering Technology degree prior to starting his job with the city. He decided to finish his associate degree, and even went on to get a Bachelor of Technology and Electro-Mechanical Engineering degree.
Martinez realized he wanted to expand his leadership skills and enrolled in New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, earning his master’s degree in executive management. A year after taking over the support services bureau, Martinez was asked to attend the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University to expand on his education in public policy and government leadership.
A Fleet Career Full of “Firsts”
If you’ve ever had a Ford Police Interceptor Utility Hybrid vehicle in your fleet, you can thank Martinez for that. When hybrids first came to the U.S. market, Martinez understood their value pretty quickly, because of their ability to shut off the engine when they are idling. It’s no secret police officers tend to leave their vehicles idling for long periods of time on patrols.
In 2008, Martinez helped the NYPD become the first department in the nation to use hybrids for patrol duties. He purchased 60 Nissan Altima hybrids and upfitted them for police duty. The hybrids outlasted all of the other conventional internal combustion engine vehicles in terms of lifecycle. Ford representatives heard about Martinez’s success using hybrids in his police fleet and reached out to him for feedback.
Through Martinez’s leadership, the NYPD was also the first to use an LED light bar. In 1996, the department converted a conventional light bar and turned it into an LED light bar, reducing the amp draw significantly, which in turn conserved energy. The LEDs also had a longer life expectancy. After his success with the light bars, Martinez reached out to major police light bar vendors and suggested they switch to LEDs, jumpstarting a new trend for the industry.
As a mechanic, Martinez was asked to develop a new light bar for NYPD vehicles in 1990. At the time, the light bars on the department’s vehicles only had one switch, turning on a single light pattern. Martinez helped Federal Signal create the vision bar, which offered numerous lighting options. The new light bar also had a self-diagnostic setting, so the keypad for the light bar would show the user if a light bulb was out or a motor wasn’t working.
Martinez also developed a new decal scheme for the department in 1990, which was added to patrol vehicles in 1991.
If you ask Martinez which “first” he’s most proud of, it’s getting his entire fleet of marked patrol vehicles outfitted with ballistic panels and glass. It came after several NYPD officers were shot and killed while sitting in their patrol vehicles in less than three years. All of the department’s command post RVs were also outfitted with ballistic paneling from the floorboard to the ceiling, after another officer on the police force was shot and killed in one of them.
“I never want to see another police officer killed in one of my vehicles,” Martinez says.
It all goes back to his philosophy: vehicles in NYPD’s fleet must meet the mission and must be safe.
Scars from 9/11
If you ask somebody over a certain age where they were on September 11, 2001, they can likely tell you; that’s certainly true for New Yorkers. Every part of NYPD’s operations was impacted that day, especially fleet.
Martinez happened to be at the central fleet garage, which had a clear view of the World Trade Center. After watching the second tower hit by a passenger jet while he stood on the roof of the garage, Martinez and his boss realized they had to decide very quickly what their department’s response would be. They waited to receive calls with instructions on how to help, but the calls never came. Martinez decided to go home and change into jeans, and he drove to shop eight, the closest shop to Ground Zero – two miles away. He walked to the site to offer help.
The department assigned Martinez to take over the headquarters fleet shop to keep it open around the clock to take care of vehicles that needed aid. One memory that stands out to him from the day of the terrorist attack is cleaning vehicles belonging to then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Governor George Pataki, and Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.
“My job was to clean cars and get them back on the road because we didn’t know if we were going to get another attack,” Martinez explains.
He worked twelve hours on, twelve hours off for months. Martinez’s team cleaned about 180 cars in about 18 months; around 140 cars were totaled. Vehicles were packed with dust in every crevice.
“It was like a vacuum or a nuclear reaction,” Martinez says.
Unfortunately, five members of his team who worked overtime hours to clean the vehicles are no longer alive because of health problems attributed to September 11th. Martinez himself has three health conditions attributed to his work he did after the terrorist attack that he will have to live with for the rest of his life.
The Future of Fleet
As time goes on, Martinez believes electrification will continue to take center stage in the industry, with many fleet managers scrambling to figure out ways to improve infrastructure to be able to support electric vehicles.
He also sees more technology offerings being made available that will make vehicles even safer for drivers and passengers. Martinez expects technology will also allow fleet managers to have more data at their fingertips through connected vehicle technology.
Decades of Accomplishments in Fleet
In 2015, Martinez was awarded Government Fleet’s Legendary Lifetime Achievement Award, after being inducted into the publication's Public Fleet Hall of Fame. The annual honor is given to one individual among the Hall of Fame inductees and candidates who has contributed significantly to the industry.
Martinez says he’s proud of building the team he has on staff, and he considers it one of his biggest accomplishments.
He also navigated hundreds of millions of dollars in budgetary losses when the police department was defunded. It wouldn’t have been possible, though, without help from his team.
“We've had no money to buy vehicles in the past two and a half years, yet they have really done everything to minimize fleet out-of-service numbers. We save $2 million a year using salvage parts. We do another $2 million worth of in-house warranty work. We also have a system where we monitor key indicators,” Martinez explains. “Putting all these things in place makes it very easy to see where we need to adjust day by day.”
The NYPD is leading the charge with its fleet electrification efforts, which Martinez has spearheaded alongside Department of Citywide Administrative Services Deputy Commissioner and Chief Fleet Officer Keith Kerman. The police department has around three dozen Chevy Bolts, which are used for things like school safety and traffic assistance.
In September 2022, Martinez had the opportunity to share some of his expertise on electric vehicles at The National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) Fleet Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. He was a panelist at an event at the U.S. Capitol sharing about policies to promote fleet electrification with U.S. congressional staffers.
Martinez is also proud of putting his officers in safe vehicles. Whether it’s the ballistic doors or light bar; major injuries in police vehicle-related accidents are way down, Martinez says.
“I rose through the ranks with a clear-eyed vision for making our fleet safer – for our cops and for the communities they serve,” Martinez said in his retirement announcement. “As the longtime leader, and steward, of this bureau, I’m proud to be handing off an even stronger bureau to those NYPD leaders who follow me.”
What’s Next for Martinez
Martinez is interested in working as an industry consultant. And with everything he’s spearheaded for his department, it’s clear he can offer a lot of great input.
“We’ll see who comes knocking,” he says.