published Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Chattanooga police ask city for cars


by Cliff Hightower
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    A Chattanooga police car sits outside a crime scene in this file photo.
    Staff File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Poll
Should police be allowed to take cars home?

Chattanooga police officers want their cars back.

Sgt. Toby Hewitt, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, asked the City Council on Tuesday to reconsider a decision it made a year ago to charge officers who live outside the city for taking their cars home.

The council decided last year that any officer who lived within the city did not have to pay.

He said he understood the council wanted to try to save money in a tough budget year, "but the question is: What have we saved?"

Hewitt said only 54 of about 450 officers have decided to pay for taking their cars home. The city has generated $112,000 from the officers paying for their cars.

The city is weeks away from receiving the mayor's budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, and Hewitt said he wanted to ask the council to reconsider before the budget comes out.

Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said the council should give the take-home car policy a second look.

"I don't think any officer should have to pay to do his or her job," she said. "I think we made perhaps a knee-jerk reaction."

Councilman Jack Benson said only a certain percentage of the officers are being hit by the take-home car policy.

"It's only affecting those who live outside the city," he said.

But Hewitt said the majority of officers -- 58 percent -- live outside the city.

He gave the council several personal anecdotes on how the policy has affected police officers.

He said he saw someone driving recklessly on a road a few months ago and had to call a traffic officer because he did not have his car. In another incident, there was an accident and, because of traffic, he had to take detours because he was in his personal car, he said.

The majority of patrol cars are not being taken home and are parked at the police headquarters on Amnicola Highway. If a natural disaster such as tornado hit the headquarters, it could be devastating, he said.

"Our entire fleet could be wiped out," he said.

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