Cars for the Community

By Mark McBride

The Idaho Falls Police Department implemented the Cars-For-the-Community program (take-home cars) around 1998 to deter crime and traffic violations, promote operational readiness and realize cost savings. Cities across the nation participate and benefit from similar programs.

When drivers see police cars, they typically slow down to ensure they’re obeying the law. The same effect is experienced in neighborhoods because crime occurs less where criminals see a parked police car. There are occasions when off-duty officers, driving their assigned vehicles, take enforcement action on in-progress crimes or assist with traffic accidents. Just last month, an officer driving home late at night arrested people burglarizing cars in a neighborhood.

Off- duty use of police cars is governed by policy, including restrictions on using vehicles outside Idaho Falls city limits. Officers also pay a use fee based upon personal use, mileage outside the city limits and wholesale cost of gasoline. Most officers do not drive or seldom drive family members in their assigned vehicles because of posed threats to officers. According to policy, officers never respond to critical incidents with family members or civilians in their car.

The department’s operational readiness has improved since assigning police cars to officers. When crises occur and the bomb team, SWAT team, etc., must respond, they are ready in a short amount of time. Before take-home cars, it would take up to an hour for officers to arrive on scene.

Take-home cars also save officers 30 minutes loading and unloading equipment into the car at the beginning and end of shifts. At a probationary officer’s wages of $18/hour, that’s $9 each workday for a total $1,872 per year in non-productive time per officer.

Cost analyses conducted by cities nationwide identified significant cost savings with take-home cars. A study by Mercury Associates, for Tacoma, Wash., concluded that operating costs per mile were 30 percent lower for assigned rather than pooled vehicles. Those savings were realized in maintenance costs, parking facilities and productive time.

In 2013 an IFPD analysis on take-home cars showed approximately $167,000 in annual savings. How? A take-home car lasts anywhere from eight to 10 years before it’s sold at auction. A pooled car, running at least 20 hours a day, lasts up to three years. Each vehicle has approximately the same mileage when auctioned; however the three-year car undergoes the same amount of maintenance as the eight-year car. Condense eight years of maintenance into three years and you have a significantly higher annual cost, even with fewer cars in the pool. This savings does not include the cost of hiring additional city garage mechanics to service these cars at an increased rate.

With Cars-For-the-Community, the city gains presence and preparedness at a reduced cost to taxpayers.

Cars for the Community