How to drive champagne fleets on a beer budget

Fleet management veterans offer advice on how agencies can get the most bang for their budgeted fleet bucks


     Whenever someone's got good news and bad news, I usually prefer to learn the bad first. It's not exactly new bad news, but more like industry common sense: When management needs to save money, bargaining on police equipment is bargaining with lives. So how does one save on law enforcement's more essential tools? That's where the good news comes in: In recent conversations with experienced fleet administrators, it turns out there are corners to cut.

     Take police cars for example: Vehicles are one of the trickier tight ropes management has to walk when it comes to need versus budget, since there are several areas where cost can seemingly not be compromised. The elusive answer to the quantity, quality and prioritizing questions is ever on the minds of agency heads and is the annual headache of most. Management's challenge, then, is to take measures to be sure the fat set aside on the plate is not joined by some of the meat.

     It turns out a variety of solutions such as maintenance tips, equipment recycling and rethinking the bid process can help management make it work.

Streamlining

     One money-saving solution a fleet management veteran came up with was to eliminate a step in the installation process on the agency's end.

     Jerry Newbury, the fleet manager with the Texas Department of Public Safety, has been steeped in the business of acquiring and maintaining a fleet on the government's stipulated budget for nearly 33 years. He's responsible for state fleet operations like outfitting the Texas Highway Patrol fleet, as well as buying vehicles for SWAT and the Texas Rangers.

     In 2001, the agency began bringing about double its numbers—from 500-600 vehicles to 1,000+ — and it knew it wouldn't be able to complete installation on that many vehicles each year with the personnel it had. Newbury's team decided a cost-effective solution would be to have its newly purchased vehicles arrive already equipped with in-car accessories and gear, such as the two-way radio antenna, an anti-theft device, headlight flashers, decals and the rear red-and-blue flashing lights.

     "One of the strategies we developed was we outsourced … so when the selling dealer delivers the vehicles to us, he's got to provide all of those items," Newbury says. The agency added the public safety-only equipment specifications to its outgoing bids to dealers. The lowest-bidding winner would be providing not only the vehicle, but its new accessories — already installed — reducing TDPS technicians' installation time from 18 man hours to 3 per car.

     "I don't think there's any doubt: It saved us a ton of money in man hours, installation costs and outfit time," Newbury explains. "We're very fortunate that our Ford dealer that has received the bid over the course of the last five or six years has been exceptional working with us on upfits."

     The St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Department in Louisiana has reconfigured its vehicle assignment system. Chief Deputy Hilman Papillion says the department has gone to a one-car-per-man.

     "Each individual deputy's assigned a unit, that way it's a take-home unit, so those units are not running 24-7," Papillion says. "It cuts back on the equipment used, the mileage [and] on the service for those vehicles if they're only being used 12 hours a day."

     In the Midwest, another agency decided to postpone car retirements a few thousand miles.

     "We used do take them outof service at 70,000 miles," saysCapt. David Kiddle, Grand Rapids (Michigan) PD commander of the Support Services Division. "Now we're running it to about 85,000 miles."

     Investing in quality

     Sgt. David "Doc" Halliday of the Michigan State Police, who has worked in law enforcement since 1977, was formerly the commander in MSP's Precision Driving Unit, and is currently a sergeant in MSP's Aviation Unit. He reiterates that safety is not a bargain.

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