Nearly 5,000 vehicles are assigned to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to assist its employees in performing a variety of duties as they carry out the mission of protecting and serving the people of the Lone Star State.
“Our goal is to make sure our staff has the best vehicles available and any equipment they need, so when they are patrolling or traveling, they are as safe as possible,” said Brian Reynolds, the director of Fleet Operations at DPS.
A Full-Service Operation
Fleet is responsible for acquiring, upfitting, maintaining, and remarketing all DPS vehicles.
In addition to vehicles for the Texas Highway Patrol, DPS Fleet Operations oversees vehicles for the Texas Rangers, the Criminal Investigation Division, Capitol Detail, Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, Driver License Division, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Administration Division, and a number of other sections, even including DPS Texas Marine Unit boats.
Reynolds expects the DPS fleet to surpass the 5,000-vehicle mark this year. Of the current total, about 2,800 to 2,900 vehicles serve the Highway Patrol — including Dodge Chargers, Ford Crown Victorias, and approximately 900 Chevrolet Tahoes. Texas Rangers use mostly pickup trucks, with the majority being Ford F-150s.
The department writes the specs for vehicles, places requisitions, and participates in the bidding process. Some of its vehicles are upfitted prior to arriving at the department; for other unmarked and specialty vehicles, the department handles upfitting in-house. Reynolds oversees a primary shop in Austin with 10 full-time equipment installers, a repair shop with about 12 technicians, and a body shop with two technicians. He also oversees four outlying shops across Texas; three of them include two technicians and a supervisor, and those include a testing facility and a training center. The fourth, located in Rio Grande Valley at the Texas-Mexico border, includes four technicians and a supervisor. An additional two-person facility is planned in Corpus Christi in the future.
Maintaining a Well-Traveled Fleet
The Texas State Legislature sets the budget biannually, and during the 2015 session the legislature authorized the addition of 250 trooper positions to be assigned to the border regions.
“Those 250 new troopers, as with all of our troopers, will be assigned a patrol unit,” Reynolds said.
Additional projected fleet growth should result in a big mileage increase for the DPS fleet, which put on about 115 million miles in 2015.
“I believe we are probably one of the highest-mileage law enforcement fleets in the nation,” Reynolds said. “We have an incredible amount of area to cover, an amazing amount of terrain, and an amazing amount of geography that we have to deal with.”
Reynolds and his team work closely with departments to make sure vehicles have air conditioning, especially in brutal summer heat. The team works closely with the department’s K-9 units, equipping the vehicles with K-9 heat alert systems. “We protect those service animals very carefully,” Reynolds said.
He and his team keep the vehicles well maintained for all that mileage. Its Weslaco shop is now operating two shifts, open 16 hours a day. The Austin shop is open 10 hours a day. The fleet does approximately half of its own maintenance and outsources the rest, “simply due to the fact that the geography and distance prevents us from being everywhere we need to be,” Reynolds said.
The fleet has traditionally replaced its vehicles every 100,000 miles, but that has edged up to 130,000 lately because of increased activity, causing additional wear and tear. Extreme weather conditions such as high heat and sometimes significant flooding also cause wear and tear.
“You’ve got the flash flood capital here in central Texas, where thunderstorms create flash flooding challenges on a regular basis in the springtime. We have lowlands along east Texas, from Longview to Houston. We’ve got the coastal issues, in some cases there could be flooding there, but there hasn’t been since I’ve been here. Then you’ve got snow in the wintertime in the northern part of the state, desert in the western part of the state, and it’s just a huge variety we need to prepare for,” he said.
With the high mileage and varied terrain fleet drivers encounter, Reynolds can’t help but hear some interesting stories from the Texas DPS field staff when their fleet vehicles come in for repairs.
“We’ve had vehicles get stuck in the sand in the state’s desert terrain and, not surprisingly since we’re in Texas, we’ve even had fleet accidents with livestock,” Reynolds said. “We are here to do whatever we can as a fleet operations section to support the department’s different duties and also address any vehicle incidents that may occur along the way.”