Take-home police vehicles can be a point of controversy for some agencies. Although some police departments are limiting or eliminating take-home programs due to high costs or employee abuses, others are creating or building their programs to increase visibility and decrease wear and tear.
Since implementing its fleet take-home program, the Wilmington Police Department (N.C.) has seen an increase in officer morale, better maintained vehicles, and longer fleet life cycles.
The Individual Vehicle Assignment Program (IVAP) was initiated by Chief Ralph Evangelous in 2005. Through the program, officers are eligible for a take-home vehicle after two years of service. Officers who have not met that requirement are partnered up and assigned a shared patrol car, which is used for rotating shifts and kept at the station.
The agency was even commended in a city audit last year for the success of its take-home program.
Extending the Life of Police Vehicles
Before the program, patrol cars ran all day. As officers finished their shift, they would hand the keys on to the next shift, and cars would essentially run 24 hours a day. Wear and tear accumulated quickly and the vehicles did not last long.
“Normally we look at removing vehicles at about 100,000 miles and, when we were running vehicles 24/7, 365 days a year, that came pretty quick,” Captain David Yanacek, Commander of the Administrative Services Bureau, said. “Now it’s a lot less miles and the cars last much longer.”
With less wear and tear, Yanacek said some vehicles are reaching 130,000 to 150,000 miles before they are retired. Patrol cars that were generally retired around the five-year mark are now reaching six to 10 years of service.
Keeping Officers Accountable for Police Vehicles
When the vehicles were always out, the department had problems taking care of them. With IVAP, officers became accountable for their vehicles.
Supervisors inspect IVAP vehicles monthly to ensure they are kept clean and well-maintained. Officers are in charge of scheduling maintenance at the city garage according to a maintenance schedule released monthly. Failure to maintain a vehicle is documented, and officers can get their vehicle taken away if they do not meet these standards.
Use is limited, too. Officers are permitted to take the vehicles home, but they are not permitted for personal use, and a relative cannot ride in the car without permission from the police chief. Those who live outside a 15-mile radius of the city cannot take vehicles home. Instead they must find a police, fire, or EMS station where they can park the car. If an officer leaves town for an extended period, he or she is also required to drop off the car at a police station for use in case of an emergency.
Despite these restrictions, IVAP is still a popular program among officers. Some officers even count down the days until they become eligible for their own vehicle.
“You don’t get rich being a police officer,” Yanacek said. “It’s a great incentive for younger officers to look forward to and an incentive to keep officers, knowing they’ll receive their own vehicle and be able to maintain it.”
Achieving Long-Term Results
Yanacek acknowledges that take-home programs aren’t for everyone. Setup requires a large investment in vehicles that smaller agencies, for example, may not have the funds to support. That being said, he believes agencies shouldn’t be discouraged by the high price tag.
“You have to look past the initial cost of outfitting your department. I think that scares a lot of people when you look at that initial expenditure to start but once you get past the first few years, there are cost benefits and it saves money in the long run,” he said.
For the Wilmington PD, annual purchases vary. Although the agency only purchased 18 vehicles last year, it will purchase about 50 vehicles this year as many of the vehicles from the program’s start in 2005 are reaching the end of their life cycles.
“We still have some 2006 and 2007 vehicles that are really reaching the peak of their service level,” Yanacek said. “This purchase is a little over 50 vehicles. That’s everything from regular patrol vehicles to a couple of K-9 vehicles and a swat vehicle.”