With the Indianapolis public safety budget woes exposed as they are again, along with Director Straub’s reappointment hearings this week, there is a lot of interests in the inner workings of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Departments’ budget allocations. One particular area of concern is the take home car program. Director Straub indicated that a huge portion of the supposed budget shortfall rests on the shoulders of this program. Without it, the city will be better off fiscally, Director Straub implied.
I have done the leg work, using studies since the early 90s, which suggests the exact opposite. The following are a few of the observations I have made previously on this blog.
IMPD officers that live within Marion County as part of their employment compensation package are given take home cars. These cars are a win-win for officers, the police department, the City, and citizens. In fact, the return of the take home car program in the early 90s was a result of an in depth study of take home vs. Fleet management programs. The former was and is still clearly the most fiscally responsible option.
The officers can set up mobile offices that are immediately accessible and do not have to be shared with others. They gain the benefit of using the car instead of their personal cars to do short duration travels. In my research, I have found that many officers do take advantage of this use of the police car but they do so judicially. Even when they are not under any obligation they seem to be cognizant of public perceptions no matter how misinformed they are. As a result, a few dollars in fuel use is saved but the greater, less monetary based benefits are lost.
The police department benefits by increasing police presence without increasing manpower or paying overtime. This is a huge profit for the department. By national standards, IMPD is not on par with its officer-citizen ratio. The take home car program allows the department to use the day to day activities of off duty police officers as part of their crime prevention efforts.
On average, an off-duty officer offers 20 minutes of their time weekly on matters that would normally be handled through 911 dispatch. So instead of tying up on-duty resources for 20 minutes or so, the off-duty officers resolve the issue. How does it come about that a citizen recognizes an off-duty officer? Unless he is a rookie wearing a t-shirt with POLICE in bold white lettering it is because they are in their marked police car.
The city benefits in as many ways. First, if you have officer's that lives in your neighborhood as I do you, you see them often tending to the basic maintenance of their cars. The city does not pay them for the time they spend on upkeep nor do they get reimbursed for the cleaning supplies they purchase. I am told that some car wash business do offer free or discounted services. However, there is no such thing as free. If the officers don't pay for the car wash, the business eats the cost instead of the city. I would suspect that a growing number of businesses simply cannot afford to absorb the losses and will likely increase even the discounted prices.
Let's say 1000 officers are responsible for the upkeep of their cars (I don't know if this number accurately reflects the actual number of take home cars for the 1600 member IMPD or not; but the number can be adjusted). If we allow for $2.00 a week as a very conservative estimate (car wash, interior cleaning supplies, etc.) and one hour of regular rate labor time, that is nearly $30,000 a month and $360,000 a year in unseen benefits to the city in just cosmetic upkeep of the police cars. Could the city do it cheaper if they did it themselves? I doubt they could. This is just a single benefit that doesn't pull from the city's budget. What other benefits does the city pretend not to gain through the take-home car program?
Police cars can be seen on the highway, sitting in mall parking lots, parked in neighborhoods, at the local restaurants, dropping kids off at school and we citizens benefit greatly from this. In fact, the benefits of the IMPD take home car program would break the city if the officers were paid for their off-duty services that stem from the program.
It is rare that both management and labor (private sector or public) can agree on a method of operation that both can buy into. This buying into principle is the key to success. In spite of all of the other Straub created tension between his administration and police officers, this is the one common ground that both sides can agree on. That should not be taken lightly.
All of this is good management of taxpayer funded resource (again I remind you, that police officers are also contributors).