SOS: finding solutions for a troubled Earth

Criminal justice agencies step up to the environmental plate

     "Since they don't have heaters, we don't send them out when it's icy," Chambers says. But, he notes, the GEM vehicles satisfy a need on campus, especially for after-dark patrols. "They are used for an eight-hour shift, then plugged in to recharge."

     Binghamton PD also uses the police environmental favorite — the bike patrol. "[Bikes] not only get the officer up close to the action, but it's a renewable resource," Chambers says. "Bikes can go where cars cannot."

     Bicycle patrols have become extremely popular in metropolitan police departments because they are both cost-efficient and allow for increased mobility. Bike patrols save energy, reduce wear and tear on police vehicles, produce no pollutants and keep officers in fit and fighting shape. As an added bonus, bike patrols allow officers to become better acquainted with the people who live and work in the area. The latter makes pedaling patrols good for public relations and a natural component of community policing.

     Like many departments, Binghamton looks for other ways to make itself greener. Flex-fuel vehicles, which rely on the availability of compressed natural gas, have been part of its program in the past, but lack of a nearby supply has stalled the university's flex-fuel program. Still, it remains a future option.

     Parking meters on the campus operate with a combination of solar and battery power.

     Computer-based reporting systems, such as the one Binghamton PD uses, reduce the need for paper and also save fuel.

     "[It] used to be the officer had to come in and write the reports, but now they do the report wherever they can find a wireless hot spot," he says. The hot spots, located throughout the campus, also allow the officers to provide a passive police presence — and deterrent.

     "They're still serving the public and it saves all the running back and forth," he adds.

     Although law enforcement agencies cannot always control the mountains of required paperwork, cutting back helps. And paperless is now the way to go when it comes to internal forms. An annual valuation of interdepartmental forms and procedures can lead to surprising conclusions. Many agencies haven't updated their forms in years and what worked in the 1990s may not be necessary in the 2000s. Departments can save a tree or maybe even a small forest by reducing dependence on paper forms.

Greening the fleet

     A greener building might be out of the reach of most departments, but the little things add up, so working more on computers and less on paper makes sense. Chambers touches on another angle that makes sense — taking time to evaluate your fleet.

     Police vehicles aren't known for being good on gas. During the 1970s fuel crisis, this left a lot of agencies looking for alternative ways to deploy personnel. Some rationed gasoline within their departments, giving officers a mileage quota. Others yanked officers off the street to give their cars (and their gas tanks) some downtime. Back then, alternative fuels were mostly in the conceptual stage. Now, "greening" your fleet — or at least part of it — is a real possibility.

     Tom Murray, project manager for the Corporate Partnerships Program at Environmental Defense, works with PHH Arval, a commercial fleet management company, to help fleets lower their impact on the environment through a program called PHH GreenFleet.

     PHH GreenFleet's clients include Infinity Insurance, Abbott Labs and other leading companies. The mutual goal: to help corporate — and govern — America's deployed fleets that are carbon neutral.

     According to Environmental Defense, U.S. cars and light trucks are responsible for emitting more than 300 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, thereby raising the levels of carbon dioxide and contributing toward global warming. But greening a fleet doesn't simply have a positive impact on the environment, it also reduces operating costs by improving fuel economy. With shrinking budgets at nearly every level of law enforcement, focusing on innovations that can lower expenses is a popular bandwagon for taxpayers.

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