Managing a fleet of police vehicles in a small town or rural area can lead to challenges from a variety of environmental factors, including animals, weather, and rough terrain.
Beware of Deer Strikes
Recently, the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department in N.C. addressed an issue that it has faced for years: deer strikes.
“We probably don’t have any worse problem in this county than any other counties in North Carolina, but we have typically about five to seven deer strikes a year, usually in the fall and early winter,” Sheriff David Grice said. “It seems like the further east you get, the more you have open fields, and deer populations are a lot stronger than around here.”
But Grice said the agency has seen three particularly rough deer strikes, in which vehicles incurred significant damage. In one case, the vehicle’s hood and front doors were hit, setting off all of its airbags. In another, the front end of the car was completely wiped out.
“Interesting enough, that one could be repaired, but that was the third time that car had been repaired from deer strikes,” Grice said.
As a result, the agency is trying out push bars to see if that mitigates any damage. For now, the agency is trying it out on its new vehicle purchases, which includes five patrol vehicles this year. It is also opting for larger push bars that wrap around the whole front end of the vehicle rather than a traditional push bar.
Grice noted that results may be difficult to measure. After all, no deputies plan to hit deer, and even if it does happen, they can’t predict which vehicle it would happen to or what angle the deer would hit. But any savings would be worth consideration. Even with one less crash, a $600 push bar could save money compared to $2,300 in body work.
Seasonal Challenges for Police Vehicles
David Tifft is the fleet manager for the State of Vermont Department of Public Safety. The state is mountainous, with a lot of snow in winter and muddy roads in spring.
After Winter Storm Stella hit last week, Vermont State Police officers went to work, taking on longer shifts than usual. The Department of Transportation cleared roads quickly, but major streets took preference, which limited officers’ ability to get around until back and side roads were cleaned up much later in the night.
“Most of our patrol vehicles are all-wheel drive (AWD) so that has made a positive impact on our ability to respond to crimes and to citizen request. When we just had the rear wheel drive pursuit vehicles we found it much tougher to respond in muddy or snowy weather,” Tifft said.
The fleet also uses snow tires, which are softer than regular tires and easier to maneuver in snow but can wear out more easily in warm weather and urban environments. The tires are generally installed in November and removed in May.
Looking Past Mileage
For the Town of Jonesborough, Tenn., the close proximity of officers has allowed fleet to develop a stronger relationship through preventive maintenance (PM). Jonesborough is a historic town with a population less than 5,000, but on weekends the town can bring in 25,000. The Police Department does not have a wide area to patrol, approximately five square miles. As a result, patrol cars don’t rack up much mileage, and spend a lot of time idling.
“More than anything else, what we have issues with when it comes to our cars and road conditions are speed bumps,” Lykins said. “A lot of people come through town so we try to control that by speed bumps. What that does to a police car that rides these roads every day, it would be comparable to New York City — for lack of a better comparison — if you’re hitting a bump every 200 yards.”
About five years ago, the Police Department implemented a new policy: vehicles would be brought to the shop for PMs every four weeks, regardless of mileage. With no vehicle to use, officers would often stay in the shop, and now all officers stay for the duration of the service.
Matt Rice, operations major for the Jonesborough Police Department, said getting officers on-board with the idea was difficult at first, but officers now see the value in finding issues before they become major problems.
“Anytime you can build a relationship with staff and other organizations you’re working with its great. The fact that we’re finding problems before they become major problems is even better,” he said.
Thanks to this improved relationship between technicians and officers, Lykins has noticed more constructive conversation about patrol cars in the shop.