The situation in the Schenectady Police Department is that there are four evidence technicians — guys who photograph crime scenes and pick up shell casings — and there are four vehicles for them, which they are allowed to take home even though only one technician is on call at any given time.
So a couple of questions arise:
• Why not have just one such vehicle, and let the one guy who is on call take it home? Why do you need four vehicles for four technicians, being used for personal transportation?
• Why do all these vehicles need to be macho, oversized SUVs?
I think I know the answer to the second question, but back to the first one. I asked Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett, and he said the authorization is “not cut in stone,” and, “If you give authorization it’s implicit you can cancel authorization.”
I don’t know. The police contracts says: “Any evidence technicians and canine officer(s) who are authorized to use department vehicles assigned to them shall be authorized to use said vehicles to drive to and from work.”
It’s a murky sentence. Does it refer to all evidence technicians who have department vehicles assigned to them, or only to those who are authorized to use the vehicles assigned to them, or what?
And what does “to and from work” mean? Does it mean drive them home and keep them there?
Deputy Chief Brian Kilcullen says, yes, that’s what it means. It was a deal negotiated in April 2010. Before that the department had no authority to call in off-duty evidence techs or detectives either. Then it struck this gentlemen’s agreement, not committed to writing: The evidence techs would get take-home vehicles, and they would come into work when they were called.
And they get called frequently enough when they’re off-duty, because one of the four has been out of work with an injury for the past 15 months, so there is no one on duty overnight or on weekends.
If you need someone to photograph a crime scene or lift fingerprints in those off-hours, you have to call one of the three who are home on their own time, and in compensation for their inconvenience, they not only get paid overtime, as you would expect, they also gets free full-time use of police department vehicles.
Such is life in the public sector, and I only regret that I didn’t get in on it long ago. I’d have a prestigious vehicle at someone else’s expense right now.
The second question is much easier. Of the four evidence vehicles in use now, two are vans and two are four-wheel drive SUVs. The department is retiring the vans and wants to replace them with SUVs, which would ordinarily be a simple matter, since the Schenectady City Council is solidly Democratic, and the Democrats are cozy with the public employee unions. If the cops want something, they can have it.
But, alas, a couple of Democrats are also cost-conscious and sensitive to extravagance, and a new member of the council, Vince Riggi, is entirely independent. He wants nothing to do with any outsized SUVs but thinks all the evidence vehicles should be vans. With one vacancy on the council, members are deadlocked, 3-3.
Why are the cops so insistent on big Chevy Tahoe SUVs?
In my view because they’re macho vehicles, as opposed to wussy vans of the kind that soccer moms drive back and forth to middle school to pick up the kids.
“It’s a trendy vehicle to be driving right now,” Riggi says. “Should the city be buying Tahoes for any department? The message should be we’re going to cut corners wherever we can. Where does it stop?”
And Riggi remembers, as I do, what a ruckus it caused when the former city engineer, Milt Mitchell, bought himself a Jeep Grand Cherokee out of his department’s budget back in 1995. He had to send the thing back, undriven, and resorted to driving his own car on the job, if you can imagine that.
The reason for getting rid of the two evidence vans is interesting, too. They have only 80,000 miles on them, which is when any car of mine feels like it’s getting broken in. One is a 1998 and the other is a 2000. Kilcullen says it’s time for them to go “based on repair costs, and anticipated repair costs,” and also on their “not good fuel economy.”
Wouldn’t you like to be able to do that? You’ve got a perfectly good car with 80,000 miles on it, and you anticipate, reasonably enough, that repair costs will start going up, so you get rid of it and buy a new one, a bigger one, with four-wheel drive.
Some people do that, but the savvy consumer knows it’s the most expensive way to provide oneself with transportation.
And you have to consider these are not emergency vehicles. They are vehicles that show up after the fact, when the emergency has passed. If one of them gets a flat tire along the way, or gets stuck in a snowbank, it’s not a life-and-death situation. It’s just a matter of convenience, and more than convenience, style.
The evidence guys have two vans and two SUVs, and they want four SUVs, Chevy Tahoes, which will be, in effect, their personal vehicles. Very nice!
As for making do with just one evidence vehicle and leaving it parked at the police station until it’s needed, letting the guys transport their own carcasses to and from home, Kilcullen says, “We’ve talked about that over the years, but given the agreement with the PBA, we haven’t further explored it. It’s worthy of some discussion.”
Some discussion is what there is likely to be when the City Council next takes it up.
I have been somewhat lackadaisical about recording verbal curiosities lately, but I couldn’t resist the other day when The Associated Press reported, “The backlash against Gingrich and Perry snowballed Thursday.”
Anytime a backlash snowballs, it deserves to be saved in the Metaphor Mixer.