City of Lexington, Ky., Mayor Jim Gray signed an executive order on July 11 that temporarily allows police officers to drive their cruisers for personal use at no cost to them, vowing he would "not let the cost of a tank of gas get in the way of public safety." The order will last until the mayor can verify that the seasonal increase in violence has subsided.
"When I said I was dedicating all available resources to fighting violence, I meant it, and that includes making sure we maximize police presence, across the city," Gray said in a release.
The city has been negotiating with the union for six months to revise the personal use benefit, which allows officers to drive their cruisers on personal errands within Fayette County. The benefit was suspended in a contract the city signed in 2012 with the union as a cost-cutting measure.
Six months ago, the city and the union reopened negotiations on the benefit change. "The police union asked us to reconsider, and the benefit was not as costly as we originally estimated, so we worked together on a plan that would require officers to just cover the cost of gas," Gray said.
Earlier this month, union leadership agreed to a $50 monthly charge for officers who want the benefit, pending a vote by union members. That vote, scheduled this week, was suspended by union leaders on July 9. Gray urged union officials to move ahead with the vote.
The personal use benefit requires officers to be armed and to have their radios on when using their cruisers on a personal errand. If an off-duty police officer driving his or her cruiser witnesses a crime in progress or sees a citizen in need of police assistance (for example, someone stranded on the road), the officer must stop. In addition, the personal use benefit requires off-duty officers to respond to radio calls concerning nearby "Priority 1" crimes, which are crimes in progress where a life is threatened.