Janesville61.9°

Gas prices fuel changes for police departments

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October 12, 2008
— Tumbling gasoline prices are fueling relief for beleaguered motorists in Rock County, and police officials also are breathing easier as they look at the cost of patrolling.

But the price spikes and resulting higher plateaus for gasoline—from $2.96 a retail gallon in January in Janesville to $4 in late summer and $3.16 now—have prompted changes at both the Janesville Police Department and Rock County Sheriff’s Office.


Janesville patrol officers drive marked full-size Chevrolet Impalas, and older patrol cars have been recycled as unmarked cars for detectives and administrators, Deputy Chief David Moore said.


Even before the current wave of high gas prices, the department decided to forgo one new Impala squad car in its annual purchases in favor of buying two smaller, used, more fuel-efficient cars such as Chevy Malibus for detectives and other non-patrol uses, Moore said.


Janesville’s Impala squads average 12 miles per gallon in their stop-and-start patrols of the city, Moore said, while the Malibus are getting 17 to 21 mpg.


The Janesville Department of Public Works allocates fuel to other departments, and the cops were pegged for 61,000 gallons of gas for 2008 at an average wholesale price of $3.35 a gallon, which excludes state taxes, for an annual fuel budget of $204,350, said John Whitcomb, director of public works operations.


Through September, all city gasoline purchases were averaging a wholesale price of $3.50 per gallon—15 cents over budget—but recent declines have buoyed Whitcomb’s hope that the annual average will be at or near the $3.35 a gallon included in the 2008 budget.


Through September, city cops had burned 47,641 gallons of gas, putting them roughly on pace for 61,000 gallons this year, Moore said.


“We expect our officers to be prudent on fuel consumption, although we have not directed officers to reduce patrol or enforcement activities,” the deputy chief said.


Patrol officers need the bigger Impalas to accommodate all their equipment, so smaller patrol cars are not an option, Moore said, adding that detectives can and do use smaller cars.


A departmental policy banning idling in squad cars would make officers uncomfortable in winter and summer and could jeopardize their effectiveness, Moore said.


Because officers must keep their in-car computers, radios and sometime dome lights activated, they would risk drained batteries if their cars were not idling and recharging the cars’ batteries, Moore said.


“These are emergency vehicles, and we don’t want to be in circumstances where the cars won’t start,” he said.


At the sheriff’s office, though, deputies have been directed to shut off their full-size Ford Crown Victorias and Dodge Chargers if they are running stationary radar or leaving the cars for any extended period of time, said Lt. Jude Maurer.


“It’s a common-sense approach to the problem,” he said.


In addition, deputies no longer are dispatched to car-deer accidents unless there has been injury or road blockage, Maurer said.


Drivers involved in such accidents can pick up abbreviated accident report forms at the sheriff’s office or Department of Motor Vehicles, he added.


And deputies no longer are being sent to vandalism or minor theft cases that have no suspects, Maurer said.


The Crown Vics and Chargers average 18 mpg in the deputies’ mostly rural driving. The sheriff’s office five-year average for gallons used is 94,032, and the office is estimating a $3.30 per gallon wholesale price through 2009, for a 2009 gasoline budget of $310,306, Maurer said.


While mid-size cars remain possibilities for sheriff’s detectives and other non-patrol personnel, the full-size cars are proven products that provide the speed, handling and size to ensure deputies arrive quickly and safely at emergencies that often are miles away, Maurer said.


As for the recent rapid decline in gas prices, Maurer said:


“It’s very much a relief in the sense that any time gas (price) spikes, the ancillary effects are felt throughout the department. Outside of the jail, most of our activity depends on automobiles.”



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