New cars sit idle while Gary cops drive on bald tires, overdue maintenance – Chicago Tribune
The once good-natured grumbling about equipment problems vacillates between open hostility and frustrated resignation among some Gary police officers.
Jokes — without smiles – circulate the department.
“Foot patrols are coming back in style!” and “The city’s just waiting for enough officers to quit so everyone has a car.”
Ford quit making the popular Crown Victoria in 2011, but a majority of the city’s squad cars are much older than that. Three new Dodge Chargers bought last year are on the street, but 20 new Ford Explorers aren’t.
Chief Larry McKinley announced the purchase of 20 new cars in the spring, but none of the black Explorers are in use. Eight sit in a lot north of the Public Safety Facility but don’t have markings, lights or sirens.
City spokesperson LaLosa Burns said of the 20 new cars, 12 are being prepared for service. “We expect the 12 cars presently with the vendor will be on the road in early September,” Burns wrote in an email, responding to questions posed by the Post-Tribune. She didn’t say what plans the city has for the others, but said, “currently the police fleet is sufficient for the number of officers.”
In the meantime, a homicide detective, who asked that his name not be used, dropped his car off at vehicle maintenance before he left for vacation. The car is still there, three weeks later and all it needs is an oil change and a tire repair, the detective said.
“There are no basic repairs,” Burns wrote. “When cars are brought in to vehicle maintenance, it is then for preventive maintenance. The entire car is checked. This takes time. Vehicles are checked and certified safe before leaving the shop.”
Bald tires, no air conditioning, no emergency lights are common complaints, officers say. When officers drive a prisoner from one destination to another, they are required to state their beginning and ending mileage. But that’s not possible when the odometer is broken, officers say.
Windows don’t roll up or down. Doors don’t open. Seats are worn through. Rust. Lots of rust.
“A lot of these cars are running 24 hours a day and the shortage is such that officers are doubling up in cars,” Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 61 President Samuel Abegg said Thursday.
While a two-man car is preferable, Abegg said, it’s less effective when that is the only car in that district for the shift. Despite a collective bargaining agreement provision that sets, for example, a minimum of 12 officers on the street for that turn, the steady flow of resignations has left the patrol division numbers too depleted to accomplish that, he said.
This week, for example, the city’s four districts had only two cars for each area during the day shift, and the midnight shift is short regularly, according to daily schedules.
Abegg, assigned to a gang investigative unit, has a take-home car he describes as “one of our better vehicles.” Fearing the loss of the car for an extended period while waiting for an oil change, Abegg had it done himself, he said. “I’ve been an advocate of handling minor repairs, such as wiper blades and oil changes, ourselves. But if vehicle maintenance (workers) get word, they freak out,” he said.
“I have consistently sent Cmdr. (Sarita) Titus emails about cars down for weeks at a time. Money is a problem. I understand that. But there is no doubt that if you have to have the right equipment to do the job and the car issue is a problem,” Abegg said.
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