The Covington Police Department has kicked off a new program that will allow some of the department’s vehicles to get a rest and create more of a visible police presence in the city.
Eight new Dodge Charger patrol cars have arrived as a part of the new Assigned Officer program, which is a program that assigns a single vehicle to a single officer so the officers are more accountable for taking care of the car.
CPD Chief Stacey Cotton said the eight vehicles cost a little more than $300,000 and were purchased with forfeited drug funds and that the taxpayers did not have to pay for the vehicles.
"Somebody might say, ‘that’s a little over $44,000 a car, that’s expensive.’ But that was the cost of the car plus all of the equipment that goes inside of the car," Cotton said. "We have laptops, video cameras, and the radios. The radio alone is $5,000. Then you have the striping, the cages, the blue lights and all that adds up," he said.
"So the car cost about $25,000 or $26,000 and then we put about $19,000 to $20,000 more dollars into the cars for the equipment."
The vehicles were purchased from Ginn Motors. The Covington City Council approved the purchase of the vehicles at a September 2012 meeting, as any purchase more than $20,000 has to have city council approval.
Cotton said that the patrol cars are not replacing existing vehicles, but are additions to the current fleet. He said in the past, officers had to share vehicles over different shifts, which caused a lot of wear and tear on the vehicles.
However, this program allows each officer to take home their vehicle, which Cotton said allows the cars to rest. When asked about the cost of fuel it takes to allow each of the officers to take home, Cotton said there will be a minimal increase; however, over time the department would see a better use of its vehicles because the cars wouldn’t be driven consistently.
"They take them home and then drive them to work the next day. There’s no personal use with them or anything like that," Cotton said.
"We did a study a couple of years ago when we were trying to implement this plan and we found that it only increases the fuel consumption by about 2 percent. It’s just the drive in and the drive back, which is a small amount of miles compared to what they are actually driving around the city," Cotton said. "Plus you’ve got to realize that the cars are sitting still and not being used. They can’t go on vacation in them.
"The cars are driving constantly, meaning that the cars don’t rest. When one shift changes out, the new shift comes in and takes back off again. So we’re only getting about 24 months of service out of those vehicles," Cotton said.
"Sometimes the cars, other than getting shut off for 15 minutes, were on the road 24 hours, 7 days a week for 365 days a year, unless they were down for maintenance or an officer was off," he said. "As you can imagine, when you drive a car like that [or] when you constantly use something, you wear it out quicker and that’s what was occurring. We were wearing cars out and we might have only had 70,000 miles on them, but it was a hard 70,000 miles because they were out a lot."
Cotton added that more money would be spent upfront but over time the investment of the new vehicles would pay off.
"By assigning a vehicle to somebody, because it won’t be driven all the time, that vehicle will probably last on average six to seven years — you are spreading the cost of the vehicles. You get more value out of it," Cotton said. "Once it’s up and going over the next 10 to 15 years, the city will see a better use of its money because the investment of the purchase of the vehicle will now be used over a six-year period."
In addition, Cotton said several of the surrounding agencies in the area have a program where officers are assigned their own vehicle, which has hurt the department in recruiting new officers. He said he hopes the new program will help with recruiting.
"When people are considering where they want to apply for a job [they] look and see, ‘well can I get a car when I work there.’ When they look at the Covington place market they really would love to work in Covington, because it pays good, [the] people are good and the community is good, but oh wait a minute, ‘if I don’t get a police car,’ they go somewhere else. So that hurts us in recruiting."
Cotton also said assigning vehicles to officers will help give accountability to each officer in taking care of the vehicles.
"The officers are now accountable for their vehicles. When people are sharing a car, it’s really hard to tell who did what to it — who kept it clean, who might have backed into something and put a dent or a scratch on it or something," Cotton said. "This will be that person’s car and if something happens to that car. It’s their responsibility."
The Assigned Officer program is in its beginning stages and eventually all of the officers will have their own vehicle. Cotton said this will create a higher level of visibility on the streets when shifts are changing.
"You will have more cars patrolling [when] the new shift comes in to work, those cars will be coming in. So for a little while, there’s going to be more cars on the road at that point and time. But you don’t know if they are coming in to work or not at that shift change," Cotton said.
"When everybody eventually gets a car — because it’s going to take us two or three more years to get vehicles — you’ll just see the opportunity for more cars to be on the streets."