Price of Patrol

Price of patrol
Millions spent on local law-enforcement vehicle fleets
Sam Yu/The Frederick News-Post

Sam Yu/The Frederick News-Post

The Frederick County Sheriff Office’s mobile command bus was staged at the county fairgrounds during The Great Frederick Fair to ensure the safety of fair-goers.

Deputies used the 35-foot, customized 1989 Thomas bus as a staging area for security operations, said Capt. Troy Barrick of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

The bus that cost more than $47,000 to purchase and maintain doesn’t get much use — it has clocked about 14,000 miles since 2004 — but it is one of the many sheriff’s office vehicles that officials say are necessary for effective law enforcement.

The fleets used to police the streets of Frederick and Frederick County come at a price.

Between purchasing, customization, replacement and repairs, costs can be substantial, according to city and county officials, and budgeting and record-keeping is an ever-fluid process.

The county has spent more than $4.8 million to acquire 213 vehicles for the sheriff’s office.

Frederick has spent $2.8 million for the city’s fleet of 144 law enforcement vehicles.

Inventory databases on these fleets obtained from Frederick County and the Frederick Police Department illustrate the costs and show how vehicles are acquired, maintained and accounted for.

“I try to project what I need to spend each year, but it can be kind of a crapshoot,” said Pat Hannah, who heads the county’s fleet services department. “There’s always changes, and I have to project what they think the changes are going to be.”

Hannah tracks acquisition costs, maintenance, mileage and the amount of county money spent for each vehicle’s life-to-date.

“It’s all done internally. When it comes time for actual replacement of vehicles, I have to go to committees and ask to spend money to buy those,” he said. “I’m not doing business for myself. It’s a check and balance.”

Total life-to-date maintenance on each vehicle adds another $1.4 million to the county’s overall bill for the existing fleet.

The cost of sheriff’s office vehicles ranges from $50,518 for a 1996 International Armored Tank to about $25,000 each for a collection of 2013 Dodge Charger cruisers used to patrol county highways.

City police maintain a fleet of marked and unmarked cruisers and tactical vehicles that range from a 1997 34-foot Winnebago at $111,113 to a handful of 2012 Chevrolet Impalas at about $20,000 a piece.

Even with heavy mileage, some law enforcement vehicles remain active in the fleets after determining the level of wear-and-tear.

In the sheriff’s office’s fleet, 81 vehicles have accrued more than 100,000 miles each, according to the county’s vehicle inventory database.

Thirty Frederick police vehicles have surpassed 100,000 miles, according to the department’s records.

Sam Yu/The Frederick News-Post

Sam Yu/The Frederick News-Post

Manufacturer warranties vary depending on make, model and vendor, but the warranty guidelines do not determine when vehicles are retired, according to city and county officials.

The Frederick police fleet includes 57 “fully depreciated” vehicles, according to fleet records, meaning the vehicles are no longer under manufacturer’s warranty, though the department continues to use them as needed.

Of those 57 vehicles, 21 — mostly 2000 to 2006 Chevrolet Impalas — have more than 100,000 miles.

“If some vehicles are over warranty, we may still keep them in service,” said Capt. Pat Grossman, the city’s deputy chief. “It’s not set in stone.”

Inventory lists for the county fleet do not indicate when vehicles have depreciated. Hannah said vehicles have different warranties and varying projected shelf lives based on manufacturers.

Meter readings, recurring maintenance costs and and acquisition dates are recorded for each vehicle and put into a single electronic database, Hannah said.

That information helps him to know when vehicles should be decommissioned and assists in the budgeting process each fiscal year, Hannah said.

City police have a different system, Grossman said. Fleet records have historically been kept per vehicle and not in a database.

The department is facing a backlog of paper files that need to be put into an electronic system, he said.

Cpl. Mike Pue, assistant supervisor of the Patrol Division, is responsible for fleet management and tracking mileage and maintenance.

“I have what we budget for repairs, but nobody sits down and writes what they found on each car,” Pue said.

Having a sworn officer with other full-time duties manage the fleet makes it harder to maintain thorough vehicle records, Grossman said.

City and police officials have discussed hiring a part-time civilian employee to manage the law enforcement vehicle fleet through the city’s Department of Public Works, he said.

A fleet manager would compile vehicle records into one database, Grossman said, in a system comparable to the county’s.

“This will give us a realistic view of what we actually need,” he said. “This will prevent oversight and give us accountability.”

The Frederick Police Department could not produce total maintenance costs for its fleet, but provided purchases per vehicle for the past two years, showing that the city has spent almost $127,000 on vehicle equipment since July 1, 2011.

Analyzing records comes with knowing how each vehicle has been handled, Grossman said; a vehicle with 100,000 miles might seem on paper to need replacement, but it could still be in working condition depending on its use over the years.

“We’re not there yet. It’s still somewhat compartmentalized, but it’s a work in progress.”

Maintaining a database will help officers determine which vehicles need replacement based on their service records, he said.

“We’ve been looking to get to a fleet system several years ago,” Grossman said. “We’re not there yet. It’s still somewhat compartmentalized, but it’s a work in progress.”

Follow Daniel J. Gross on Twitter: @DanielJGross.