Police officers complain new cars too small for job

Police officers complain new cars too small for job

June 15th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Chattanooga Police Department Fleet Service Manager Brian Kiesche, left, stands with City Councilman Jack Benson and Manuel Rico as Sgt. Craig Joel, right, makes a cargo comparison between the Crown Victoria and Focus on Tuesday after the council meeting.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

$438,000: Amount of money in fuel savings this fiscal year by going to smaller city vehicles

30: Number of Ford Focuses given to Chattanooga police officers this year

8: Number of investigators who asked for larger cars

Source: Chattanooga

Standing in front of his city-issued Ford Focus on Tuesday, Chattanooga police Sgt. Craig Joel showed off the trunk of his car.

It overflowed with police equipment, almost spilling out onto the city street.

"There's still more at the house," Joel said. "I can't carry all of it."

Joel, vice president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, told the City Council on Tuesday that a fleet of Ford Focuses ordered by the city to give to police investigators does not fit the bill for the work officers routinely do. The cars are too tiny, and can't hold enough of the equipment needed for officers to perform their jobs, he said.

Investigators using the Focuses don't have enough room for their city-issued rifles and for stopsticks, Joel said.

"You don't outfit a Winnebago and turn it into a firetruck," Joel said. "A firetruck is a firetruck."

Dan Johnson, chief of staff for Mayor Ron Littlefield, disagreed with the use of the smaller vehicles.

"Most nonpatrol officers should not carry a rifle in their car," he said. "That's not their job."

Joel, along with Chattanooga police Sgt. Toby Hewitt, asked the council to intervene and stop buying the smaller Ford Focuses in next fiscal year's budget.

The city began buying the cars last year and equipped 30 police investigators with Ford Focuses, instead of the Ford Crown Victoria, said Paul Page, director of general services.

Eight investigators asked for bigger cars and their request was granted, he said.

So far, going to a more fuel-efficient automobile has saved $438,000 this year, he said.

He said the newer Ford Focuses coming out this year are roomier than last year's models.

"They are a little bit bigger," he said.

He said the interior was larger, but did not know about the trunk space.

Police Chief Bobby Dodd told the council members that he never heard about the city buying the cars until after the fact.

"I haven't been consulted about any vehicle we've purchased," Dodd said.

Council members were incredulous hearing that the police chief was never consulted.

"I would hope decisions of this magnitude would be made before the fact," Councilwoman Carol Berz said.

Councilman Jack Benson said he was afraid for public safety with police officers equipped insufficiently for their needs.

"I wished you had come sooner," he said. "I'm sorry this has gotten this far."

Council members directed general services to consult with the police department on their next purchases.

Page said he would start taking bids for the fleet in the next two months.