With the tight city budget, Rio Rancho Police Department’s vehicle fleet management has been following the old proverb, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” — at least the first three points.
Capt. Gary Wiseman said the department has 155 marked and unmarked emergency vehicles and a handful of support vehicles, such as the SWAT truck and investigation vehicles. Of those, 61 marked vehicles and 18 unmarked vehicles have 80,000 or more miles on them.
Plus, the engines have two or three times as much use as the odometer shows, Wiseman said, because officers’ cars spend a lot of time idling.
Although the vehicles are maintained to keep going and going, Sgt. Nicholas Onken knows they won’t last forever.
“We’re just kind of limping along with them at this point,” he said.
The recommended city budget for the upcoming fiscal year recommends the replacement of 20 cars, out of the 30 requested, plus two new cars for two additional officer positions.
Wiseman would like to see at least 22 to 25 vehicles replaced every year.
Racking up the miles
Sometimes vehicles need repairs that cost more than the value of the car. It’s not fiscally responsible to make those repairs, Wiseman said, but the city doesn’t always have the money for a new vehicle, which costs even more.
RRPD research indicates maintenance on the cars outpaces their worth at 80,000 miles. However, because of financial constraints, the department aims to replace them at 100,000 miles, Wiseman said.
“Even trying to replace a vehicle at 100,000 miles is going to be a stretch for the city,” he added.
Fifty-four of the 155 emergency police vehicles have at least 100,000 miles on the odometer.
Onken said patrol officers can rack up 100 miles in one shift just because of the geographical size of the city. As a patrol supervisor, he took his vehicle in for oil changes at 3,000 miles about every six weeks.
“Safety does become an issue,” Wiseman said.
Emergency vehicles need to handle emergencies and pursuits, so they have to be in good shape.
Still, even if a vehicle is below ideal condition, Onken said, fleet maintenance personnel wouldn’t let it go out on the road if it was a danger to the public or officers.
“That goes without saying,” he said.
Wiseman said fleet maintenance personnel do a good job.
“I don’t think (safety is) an immediate danger, but I think the recommendation would be to replace all the vehicles above 100,000 miles,” he said.
About 20 of RRPD’s marked cars are “pool cars,” meaning they’re available to officers whose assigned vehicles are in the shop for anything from routine maintenance to major repairs. Another 13 are in the decommissioning process.
Wiseman said 20 is a high number of pool cars, but the department expects 10 or 11 new officers to finish their training in the next year and need a vehicle. He wants 10 to 12 pool vehicles available at any given time.
Depending on the needs of the vehicle and the workload of the four city mechanics, an officer’s car could be in the shop anywhere from a day to more than a month. Onken said if an officer had a vehicle totaled in a wreck, he or she might drive a pool car indefinitely.
“So there’s a good majority of those cars that are out there driven on a daily basis,” Wiseman said.
City Fleet Maintenance Supervisor Daryl Blake said work on police vehicles is cyclical. Twenty or 25 come in at once; he and his three technicians whittle the number down to 15 and then another 10 arrive.
Blake’s crew works on 180 police department vehicles, including support vehicles, plus all other city vehicles except heavy equipment.
In with the new
When RRPD gets new vehicles, Wiseman said, officers with at least three years at the department and upwards of 80,000 miles on the odometer get them.
If a senior officer’s old car’s high mileage is still less than a vehicle driven by an officer with less than three years seniority, the junior officer gets the senior officer’s old car after the senior officer gets a new one. The junior officer’s car then goes to the pool and eventually out of commission.
Officers with assignments requiring little travel, such as school resource officers or supervisors working in the office, drive higher-mileage vehicles because they’re less likely to be involved in an emergency, Wiseman said. Still, they’re expected to respond to a call if they happen to be the closest.
A new police sedan and its necessary equipment cost $35,000-$36,000, Wiseman said. A sport-utility vehicle costs another $3,000 to $4,000.