Cuts could trim new patrol cars

Bob Herzberg and Mike Hawley are buying patrol cars while they still can.

Last week, Herzberg, Langley's police chief, got approval from the City Council to purchase a 2002 Impala to replace a 1995 patrol car with 95,000 miles on it. Later this year, Hawley, Island County's sheriff, will buy seven new patrol cars to work into a rotation designed to keep his deputies on wheels with less than 125,000 miles on them.

Both men say this may be one of the last years in which they have the money to buy the cars they say their officers need. Langley's new, $21`,000 car will be paid for with a $10,000 federal grant and about $11,000 socked away in the police department's vehicle replacement fund.

The county cars -- which will run about $32,000 after each of the police-edition Ford Crown Victorias are outfitted with radio gear, lights and other equipment -- will be an out-of-pocket expense from the sheriff's vehicle savings account.

While new cars could seem extravagant in a time when state voter initiatives and falling municipal revenues cutting into police funding, both top cops say keeping officers in reliable cars is a matter of safety.

"Our fleet's going to be aging beyond a point where the cars are safe to drive," Hawley said.

Cop cars get run hard. In Langley, constant start and stop driving can tear up a car in less than 100,000 miles. The 1995 Taurus Herzberg is currently "nursing along" might not have made it through the current year without major repairs. Sheriff's cars with high miles can't be considered safe at high speed when they get into high miles.

While Herzberg said his four-car fleet -- which was bolstered by a new car purchase last year -- is in the best shape it has ever been. The sheriff's fleet is at a turning point, Hawley said. The sheriff's office usually purchases eight cars per year to keep up its rotation. With only enough money for seven this year, that rotation won't work.

Both agencies assign cars to individual officers, a strategy the chief and the sheriff say promotes better care and a longer vehicle life. If new car funding is reduced over the next few years, that care will be critical.

Herzberg said he wanted to use the federal grant his department received to get a car this year in case the department has to weather tough economic times in the future. Hawley said he is worried about losing a new car in his office's rotation.

"It has a long-term impact on us," he said.

Retired Langley police cars are generally retired. Older, second-line sheriff's cars are generally issued to reserve deputies and citizens patrol volunteers.

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