It’s new-car time at the Schenectady Police Department — those lucky people — as the City Council is expected to bite the bullet Monday and approve the purchase of eight new Dodge Charger patrol units and a couple of new vans for evidence technicians. All told, the package will cost taxpayers roughly $350,000 over four years, which is bad enough; what’s worse is that each of these vehicles will probably cost an additional $12,000 per car over that period for maintenance, and when it’s over will be worth maybe $2,000 on the used-car market.
There’s got to be a better way, though it’s probably not General Services Commissioner Carl Olsen’s suggestion to trade the cars in every two years instead. Yes, doing so might save the city some money on insurance because it won’t need to keep around so many high-mileage clunkers as back-ups when the Chargers, Impalas and Crown Vics break down. But as Kathleen Moore’s analysis in today’s Gazette story makes clear, if the city can’t sell those 2-year-old Chargers (with 50,000 miles on them) for the $15,000 apiece Olsen anticipates, unloading them after just two years could be a money-loser. And if a 2-year-old civilian Charger is worth only $15,000, it seems unlikely that a cop’s Charger would be worth as much, given the abuse they’re subjected to.
Indeed, that abuse may be a key to the city’s problem. It’s hard to believe that any new car — even the less-reliable domestic ones favored by police departments — is so unreliable as to need $12,000 worth of maintenance and repairs in just four years — even if they are driven 25,000 miles annually. Cars used to fall apart that quickly, but the ones made nowadays tend to hold up a lot better. If the city’s aren’t, then perhaps someone in city government should try to figure out why.
They might want to start with the cops’ practice of keeping the cars running all the time, even when they aren’t in them. This is done because all the electronic gadgets in the cars (computers, dashboard cameras, radios, roof lights, etc.) use a lot of power and drain the battery if the car’s not running. But this is not only a waste of gas and bad for the environment, it creates a lot of wear and tear on the cars. Can’t police modify this policy a little, requiring patrol units to turn off their engines on brief stops? Or maybe they should try to find heavier-duty batteries. If it helped cut down on maintenance costs and extended the useful life of these vehicles, it would be well worth it.
Then there’s the question of the cars themselves: Most of the models used for police cars are among the least-reliable produced by Detroit’s Big Three. But Toyota’s mid-sized Camry, one of the most reliable cars on the market, is available as a police car (Salt Lake City even uses a hybrid version that’s rated for 33 mpg in city driving), and costs roughly the same as the city is spending on Chargers. Somehow we don’t think city taxpayers would mind buying a “foreign” car (the Camry is actually produced in Kentucky) if it was cheaper to run and lasted considerably longer.
The point is, maybe it’s time for Schenectady to do things a little differently when new-car time rolls around, and we don’t mean buying them more often.