Columbus will not use GPS devices to monitor city vehicles driven by police chiefs and commanders, citing safety concerns for those officers, but it will track cars issued to high-ranking firefighters.
The installation of the devices in city vehicles has begun, and the Division of Fire already is investigating "seven firefighters for speed violations," Battalion Chief Patrick Ferguson said yesterday.
In at least half of those instances, battalion chiefs were traveling about 100 mph or faster.
Mayor Michael B. Coleman pushed for the devices, saying they will lead to lower fuel costs and less pollution and because he has grown tired of news reports about city employees' misuse of vehicles.
The GPS units track speed, mileage, location and the vehicle's path. They also will alert managers if a vehicle is left idling or has mechanical problems.
About 2,000 vehicles marked with city decals are to be equipped this year with GPS devices. The city has agreed to pay $1.5 million plus annual monitoring costs to AssetWorks Inc.
The city's Department of Public Safety decided not to install the units in police-commander vehicles, because they are not marked with city decals, said Amanda Ford, the department's spokeswoman.
In most cases, police and fire commanders are allowed to take their vehicles home and to use them for some limited personal errands. Ford said information about where those police officers live would be captured by GPS devices and that someone could obtain that information through a public-records request.
The city vehicles of fire brass who drive them home have been equipped with the devices because the vehicles have city decals on them, Ford said.
However, state open-records laws specifically exempt a peace officer's home address and other personal information from release.
"(Safety Director Mitchell J. Brown) is not protecting police over fire," Ford said in an email. "The reality is that the (fire) chief and his assistant chiefs all drive marked vehicles home every day. ... Everyone can clearly see that an individual employed by Columbus Fire lives at that address."
Police and fire union officials are crying foul, saying the city installed the devices with little warning, without a policy in place and without an administrator to oversee what data are reported from the devices.
Officer Jason Pappas, the president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, said he also wants to know what data will be subject to open-records laws.
Kelly Reagan, the city's fleet manager, said his department will hold GPS training sessions with the police and fire divisions this month.
Battalion Chief Jack Reall, the president of International Association of Firefighters Local 67, is one of the seven firefighters being investigated for speeding, several city officials said.
The Fire Division's internal investigation arose after the tracking devices clocked some battalion chiefs driving more than 100 mph within the past month.
Reall did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.
Ferguson said it has not been determined if there was any wrongdoing or if the firefighters were heading to emergency scenes. Fire Division policy allows firefighters to exceed the speed limit if they are responding to emergencies and if road and traffic conditions are "favorable."
Reall said in a recent Dispatch story that any discipline arising from GPS data would have to be bargained through reopened contract negotiations because it is considered "new discipline."
Copyright 2013 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
McClatchy-Tribune News Service