GASTONIA, NC - A new vehicle policy for City of Gastonia, N.C., has police officers paying to take their patrol vehicles home after each shift. However, 171 of the department's 175 sworn officers have elected to absorb the new per-mile charge in exchange for the convenience it brings, reported The Gaston Gazette.

Police previously enjoyed the privilege of doing that for free. But the Gastonia City Council recently voted to charge 15 cents per mile for officers who live inside the city limits, and 20 cents per mile for miles driven outside the city limits.

The charge will be taken out of the officers' paychecks for the first time beginning this month. An officer who lives five miles away from the police department will pay $1.50 per workday, or about $390 per year, to take his or her vehicle home.

City engineers took each officer's home address and used a mapping program to determine how far they live from the police department, and what their fee will be per workday. The 20-cent-per-mile fee takes effect one mile outside the city limits, where Gastonia's extra-territorial jurisdiction ends.

The new policy represented a compromise to an original proposal from City Manager Jim Palenick, who in April suggested eliminating the take-home car program altogether. He said it would allow the Police Department to trim its fleet of more than 200 vehicles and save tax dollars without hurting response times.

But Gastonia Police Chief Tim Adams argued putting fewer cars on the road would be more costly in the long run because the fewer vehicles that were being used around the clock would have to be replaced more frequently. City Council members also suggested they weren't comfortable with such a drastic change, as most police departments in this area allow cars to be taken home.

Palenick estimates the per-mile fees paid by officers could produce about $94,000 in revenue for the city in the current fiscal year.

Having a distinctive black and white patrol car in a driveway or residential neighborhood can help deter crime, and is welcomed by many neighbors, Turas said. The ability to take a squad car home is also a recruiting tool for hiring the most talented police officers, he said.

When the car is right there waiting for an officer to use, it can also serve a huge benefit, even when the employee is technically off duty, Turas said.

Fully eliminating the take-home car program would have saved the city more money, Palenick said. He added that future discussions of how to refine the new policy and cut costs are likely to be entertained as part of the normal budget process each year, according to The Gaston Gazette.