As they search for ways to help cut costs, city commissioners want further examination of a nine-year-old, police-department policy.
The police cruiser take-home policy will undergo a thorough examination after the commission questioned its continued use during budget hearings.
Adopted in 2001, the main purpose of allowing police officers to take home their work vehicles is neighborhood safety. The theory is that having a police car parked in a driveway lets criminals know that a police officer is nearby.
“It’s a controversial issue,” said City Manager Bob Bartolotta. “Most cities do it because of a safety issue.”
But Mayor Kelly Kirschner questioned whether the safety benefits outweigh the cost.
“About two-thirds of squad cars are not sleeping in the city, and fuel costs are greater,” he said.
The policy allows officers to take home their vehicles, up to 45 miles from the city of Sarasota, if their home is in Sarasota County. The city pays for the cost of gasoline.
The police department estimates that eliminating the take-home policy would save $80,000 in fuel costs, but there would also be a downside.
“If you have pool cars, you have to change out equipment,” Bartolotta said.
According to a 2001 police-department study on the take-home policy, it would take an officer about 30 minutes to locate his cruiser and load his equipment into it, which is lost productivity time.
“When we call back officers to the scene of a crime, do we want them to go directly to the scene or to the station to pick up a car?” asked Bartolotta.
The city manager suggested another study, which would use today’s prices to determine how many miles the take-home vehicles travel, how much that costs the city and how eliminating the policy would affect the service the department provides to city residents.
“There are savings to be had,” said Bartolotta, “but it would require a comprehensive study.”
He estimated such a study would take two to three months.
Interim Police Chief Mikel Hollaway said there was another benefit when officers are permanently assigned a vehicle and are allowed to drive them home.
“Offices are taking much better care of the vehicles,” he said. “They’re lasting longer.”
But Bartolotta dismissed the statement, saying with better management officers should handle the police cruisers the same, regardless of the policy.
“I think we should expect all city employees to treat company property with respect, whether they take them home or not,” Bartolotta said.
The Sarasota Police Department has 41 requirements for those officers who take their patrol cars home with them. They include:
• Vehicles cannot be driven outside Sarasota County or more than 45 miles from the city of Sarasota.
• Vehicles may not be used for personal use.
• Time spent traveling to and from work is not work time.
• The police radio must be on at all times.
• Off-duty officers operating a marked patrol car must intervene in emergency or criminal situations where the public is in danger and no on-duty cars are available.
• Off-duty officers driving their vehicle must respond to emergency calls for assistance and in-progress felonies if on-duty cars are unavailable.
• Off-duty officers operating a marked patrol car shall stop at all roadway accidents, which require police attention.
• Off-duty officers must dress in a manner that will enable them to respond to an emergency.
• Officers in civilian attire shall not enforce minor traffic infractions.
• Officers will be held responsible for the condition of their vehicle and equipment.
• An officer must carry his badge, ID card, weapon and handcuffs in the vehicle at all times.
• Officers will be subject to 24-hour emergency duty, including days off and holidays.