Published: Monday, August 20, 2007
Aging fleet desperately needs to be replaced, Girard cops say
Some officers have experienced major issues driving the cars.
GIRARD City officials are working diligently to devise a plan to replace the city's aging fleet of police cars, but for officers, using the current cruisers has become a daily battle.
Earlier this month, officers were sent to the Trumbull Avenue home of a man who claimed he had doused himself in gasoline and was prepared to commit suicide by striking a match and igniting himself. When officers arrived at the address, they could smell gasoline in the air.
After checking the man, officers determined that he had not doused himself with gasoline. The smell of gasoline in the air was coming from a previously undiscovered leak in one of the cruisers being used by the officers.
Police officials say that stories of unsafe conditions with police cruisers has become almost a daily occurrence with the aging fleet of cars.
The city last purchased a fleet of police cars in 1996. At that time, 18 were purchased. One of those vehicles was destroyed in an accident, three are now being used for spare parts, and 14 are still patrolling city streets.
According to police, one officer recently lost his brakes while on routine patrol but did not wreck the vehicle and was not injured. Another officer was driving a different cruiser and the grips on the steering wheel came apart while he was driving.
One of the remaining 14 cars has rusted-out floorboards allowing the elements to creep into the car through the floor. Officers sometimes drive unmarked cruisers without overhead lights for routine patrols when too many marked units are down for repair.
"[The cars break] all the time. They have had a good maintenance record, but after 11 years and over 100,000 hard miles, you can only do so much with them," said one officer.
Officers have told city officials that most of the vehicles are extremely rusty and getting worse. The city spent between $26,000 and $28,000 maintaining the cars in 2006.
The condition of the current vehicles may also disrupt officers' ability to pursue criminals.
The city has what Police Chief Frank Bigowsky calls a "pretty standard" pursuit policy allowing officers to engage in a police chase if someone is trying to evade apprehension and, if allowed to escape, may present a danger to others.
Bigowsky said the condition of the current cars would restrict officers engaged in an "all-out, justifiable pursuit." Such a pursuit, he said, could be called off earlier than if officers were using cars in better condition.
"If you can't safely pursue individuals it makes our job that much more difficult," he said.
Councilman Michael Costarella said city officials are aware of the department's need for new police vehicles and are working on a solution to the problem.
According to Costarella, the city has put away 2.4 percent of the expected income tax revenue since June in hopes of purchasing new cars. He anticipates between $50,000 and $60,000 being available by year's end.
Costarella said city officials must decide if the money saved to buy cars would be better spent purchasing a few cars or being applied toward a lease program to replace the entire fleet of cars. That decision would need to be made by November, the cutoff date for cars to be purchased under the state purchasing program, he said.
"We would usually wait until two weeks before the purchasing deadline to look at buying cars, then realize there is no money. What we did is set aside some money to be more prepared for this year," he said.
Police officials have said that whatever plan the city has to purchase new cars needs to be put into place soon. The police officers, one officer said, need vehicles reliable enough to reach citizens in distress, but also reliable enough to reach other officers who need help.