A Sense of Ownership

   My former chief of police had been a big, tough vice cop in a city known for its ties to organized crime, and he didn't care what others thought: He did things his way.

   One policy he enforced, which would definitely be frowned upon in modern policing, was that if you wrecked a car, you paid for it. The officers called it "Roger's Easy Pay Plan." The costs of the repairs were deducted from your check each payday until it was paid off. Since I live in a right-to-work state, there were no police unions to stand up to the administration, and I seriously doubt city officials had a clue about the way he ran his department. He kept costs under control and that was pretty much all they cared about.

   The Chief was a smart man and stupid driving was one of his pet peeves: You revved that Ford a little too high and ran into something because you were driving dumb, and you found yourself tap-dancing on his carpet. Of course, his way of doing things wouldn't fly today, but agree or disagree with his style of leadership, he always thought about ways to stretch his budget.

   I was reminded of this by an e-mail from Chief Douglas Johnston of the Springfield, Vt., PD. Johnston responded to a recent column of mine by reminding me that a whole lot of headaches could be avoided (not to mention money saved) if officers simply took better care of their equipment. He's right.

   I remember, with a bit of shame, that I didn't exactly treasure the cars that rotated to me while I was a line officer. Cars were parceled out randomly, but we all got a shot at both the clunkers and the good ones on rotation. None of us took good care of those vehicles. We drove them into the ground.

   In my own defense, I wasn't one of the worst offenders. There was one officer who used to eat greasy fried chicken in her car and leave the trash under the seat. Everyone hated to follow her on the next shift — the whole vehicle was greasy and smelled. Some of the others rarely cleaned their own trash out and mistreated the interior — scratching, scraping and even tearing the upholstery.

   The matter of the cars was resolved when the department went to a take-home program. All of a sudden, the police cars were shiny and clean inside and their exteriors sparkled. Officers could be seen on weekends waxing their rides. There was a sense of pride and ownership that the pool vehicles just couldn't and didn't inspire.

   But that pride of ownership didn't extend to the rest of the department's equipment. Officers and other employees took care of the things that were assigned to them better than the property they had to share. Computer terminals, desks, chairs and other equipment that were for general use also had a much shorter shelf life than those assigned to specific personnel.

   And I guess that says something about us, both as human beings and officers: We take care of what is ours. But what Johnston is saying about officers mistreating what belongs to the department is both valid and important: Individual officers can help the budget crunch by taking care of the few precious resources police already have. The key is making officers care enough to do so.

   Obviously, assigning equipment to specific officers on a permanent basis helps, but some things can't be shared, and some officers simply don't care one way or the other. Perhaps the best approach is to remind personnel that money spent on replacing equipment that's been beaten to death won't go to raises, promotions or other benefits.

   Clearly, I don't have the answer, but I'm all ears if you do. Drop me a line if you have suggestions and I'll share them.

   A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at carolemoore_biz@yahoo.com.