MARION, IN - Sixteen new cars may be purchased for Marion Police Department if an additional $330,208 is approved by the Marion City Council to go to the department's equipment fund, according to

Police Chief David Gilbert requested the funding recently from the council. After lengthy discussion, the council unanimously approved the additional appropriation on first reading. There will be a second reading and public hearing on the issue at the next council meeting before the funding is officially approved.

Gilbert said the cars will be used for the police department's take-home program, which allows officers who live within the city limits to drive their vehicles home. Gilbert stressed before the meeting that the program is not a perk, but rather promotes safety and efficiency because officers can be on duty during their commute to and from work.

"We think if we get these cars - if the council sees it our way - our officers will be safer, we'll provide a good service and we'll save money in the long run," Gilbert said.

The money would be used in addition to $150,000 in state funding from the cumulative capital development fund. The cars would cost about $30,000 each, which includes added equipment. Gilbert said about two-thirds of the cost for each car is on the vehicle itself, and the remaining one-third is on equipment.

The take-home program began in Marion in 1997, Gilbert said. The cars that have been used in the program are in much better shape than the "pool" cars, which are vehicles used by any officer. Gilbert said that's because those who take home their car take more ownership and therefore take better care of the vehicle.

Gilbert said a pool vehicle lasts about two years, while a take-home vehicle lasts seven years. He plans to use the 16 new vehicles as take-home cars. "I won't put a new car into the pool fleet because it won't last," Gilbert said.

He admitted that the major expense for take-home vehicles is the start-up cost of purchasing new ones. Gilbert plans to take out several old vehicles annually and replace them with new ones.

The cars will provide safety for his officers and the public because they're new and won't break down - while on a pursuit, for example, he said.

Another benefit is the extra time the officer is on duty while driving to and from work. Gilbert provided testimonies from several officers to council members saying how they used their car while off duty. One officer, for example, witnessed a stabbing on a street. The officer was off duty, but he was still in his car with all of his equipment so he was able to save the woman's life.

Councilman Steve Wright asked whether the new cars would cause the city to incur higher insurance costs. Gilbert said they would, but there would be the added benefit of not paying as much or anything in maintenance for several years.

Wright also suggested the department consider leasing the vehicles. City accountant Bob Swintz said he would look into leasing costs; Gilbert said he didn't know if that would be cheaper but would be willing to compare prices.