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Colorado Springs eyes updating police department's vehicle fleet 

Cruise control

click to enlarge Some cruisers like the white one, called “peelers,” date to 2001. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Some cruisers like the white one, called “peelers,” date to 2001.

Next time you watch a Colorado Springs Police Department cruiser whiz by, consider this: One in three of the department’s sedans registers an odometer reading of more than 90,000 miles.

That’s the benchmark at which maintenance costs take a leap and reliability erodes, meaning a third of the sedans have reached the highest-tier repair cost.

It’s also worth noting that officers still drive more than 30 white-and-blue Crown Victorias, a third dating to 2004 or earlier, which the department has not-so-kindly nicknamed “peelers” because of paint jobs that didn’t hold up.

Now the city is trying to improve the police fleet, and has pumped $4.65 million into cop vehicles in the last three years. More might be on the way, considering a 2017 staff recommendation that the city shoot for investing $6 million a year — $1.5 million for CSPD alone — to replace vehicles, beginning in 2020.

But the city’s budget for next year remains in the formative stage, so it’s unknown how much will be spent in the coming year, and it’s proven a challenge to update the fleet without knowing future funding levels.

“Because we don’t have a consistent budget year in and year out, we don’t always know what we can or can’t replace,” says Bob Pace, who helps oversee the CSPD fleet.

As City Councilor Andy Pico says in an email, “It will take several years to get where we need to be.”

In 2017, the city spent $950,000 replacing police vehicles, which include about 430 sedans, 96 SUVs, 40 trucks and pickup trucks, 27 vans, 21 motorcycles and three ATVs, according to records obtained by the Indy through a records request.

In 2018, that figure increased to $2.05 million after voters approved the stormwater fee in November 2017, effective in mid-2018, which enabled the city to reallocate general fund money previously spent on drainage projects to other uses.

The city also wants to add 120 cops over a four-year period, necessitating the purchase of more vehicles. There will be 72 recruits in the next training academy class, which begins this summer.

Pico says Council knows that adding officers brings an obligation to enlarge the fleet. “A concern which has been a topic of discussion is ensuring we have the vehicles and equipment to support more officers,” he says, “as we struggle to increase the size of the force.”

This year, Mayor John Suthers and City Council allocated $1.65 million for CSPD vehicles, and Pace reports every penny of that has been gobbled up by the department’s new purchases.

Units in CSPD’s SUV fleet average 8.5 years old with 70,500 miles; 21 have more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, and three exceed 150,000. Twenty, or one in five, rolled off the assembly line before 2005.

Of the 430 sedans, police use 274 for patrol. Community service officers, detectives and plainclothes officers working in unmarked cars drive the others. (Many of those 274, however, sit idle for various reasons, including those being prepped for service or used for parts salvage, Pace says.)

The sedans average 9 years old with 68,000 miles, though 84 are 15 years old or older. But cruisers — cars used for patrol — average just over 6 years old with 71,000 miles. That average includes 10 brand new cruisers added this year, according to data provided by CSPD.

Cruisers rack up more miles as patrol officers cover a city that sprawls over 200 square miles. Other cars, like sedans used by detectives, might stay put for days.

 “Sometimes they don’t leave the division at all,” says CSPD public information officer Lt. James Sokolik.

So when should vehicles be replaced?

According to a 2017 presentation to City Council, the higher the mileage on a vehicle, the steeper the operational cost — $43 per repair/maintenance visit for vehicles with up to 45,000 miles, compared to $103 for those exceeding 90,000 miles.

The CSPD’s vehicle maintenance spending grew by 35 percent from 2014 to 2018 (from $1.2 million to $1.62 million), but Pace blames most of the increase on enlarging the fleet during those years. Still, he says, older vehicles add to the cost. 

The city’s current guidelines call for replacing police patrol vehicles after eight years and 80,000 miles; vehicles must meet both criteria to be retired.

But Ryan Trujillo, the city’s innovation and sustainability manager, says the city doesn’t yet comply with that replacement schedule.

Councilor Pico notes Council supports “getting ahead of vehicle aging” but adds that a policy of 90,000 miles and nine years for police cars seems like “a reasonable benchmark for replacement.”

Councilor Wayne Williams predicts the 2020 budget will hit the target of $1.5 million for police fleet replacement, even though revenue projections remain in flux.

But for now, at least, Pace says there isn’t a safety problem — he says older vehicles have “no impact” on officer performance. 

“We have plenty of vehicles out there,” he says. 

In fact, if officers filled all shifts in all the police divisions, 201 officers would require vehicles in one 24-hour time frame, Sokolik says, noting some shifts overlap.

The city keeps well over that number on hand to serve as backup in case of breakdowns, which Pace says rarely happen, as well as extra-duty call-outs, special-event assignments and crashes, which claim about 12 vehicles per year, on average.

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