An audit released this week concludes that with tight budgets and unfilled officer positions, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department should re-evaluate its policies on allowing officers to take police vehicles home with them in their off-duty hours.
The police do not agree.
The audit found that 45 percent of the police fleet is assigned for take-home with no tracking of mileage or how they are used after duty hours.
Further, it reported that take-home vehicles were driven 2.5 million miles for commuting and personal use over the past year at a cost to the department of approximately $1.5 million.
Speaking for the police department, Major Karl Oakman agreed that better records keeping would be a good idea, but disagreed with the idea the department should cut back on the number of take-home cars or their after-duty mileage.
Oakman said in addition to convenience to officers, the take-home vehicles deter crime by adding to the sense of police presence in neighborhoods.
He disagreed with the audit's estimate of dollar cost to the department, saying the cost-per-mile figures were inaccurate, resulting in triple the actual amount of expense.
Also, he said, when officers are hired for off-duty policing at businesses or apartment complexes the availability of the police vehicle reduces the need police cars patrolling the area.
And, he said, there is the immeasurable benefit of preparedness in case of emergency, including terrorist attack. Oakman says since the bombing of the Murrah Federal Office Building, Oklahoma City has raised the percentage of its police fleet allocated for take-home driving to 97 percent.
“If you look and do the research you will see that the majority of literature says take-home vehicles is a benefit, not a detriment,” he told the City Council Public Safety Committee.
City Auditor Doug Jones said the cost-per-mile figures were the standard ones the city uses in all its audits, but added that even if the annual cost to the department is in the $500,000 range that is still a significant expense.
He also questioned whether department cars would be any more effective than personal cars in the event of an emergency and questioned whether it is wise to allow family members and other civilians to ride in the police vehicles when they are in off-duty use.
The Police Department is looking into a reporting-accounting system to keep tabs on mileage and use of the vehicles, but Oakman said there is no plan to change the take-home policies at this time.
Steve Bell is afternoon news anchor and business news reporter for KCUR. He may be reached at 816-235-5173 or email@example.com