The Galveston Police Department is aiming to reduce the age of its fleet by changing a policy that allows officers to take home patrol cars, a move police have decried.
Discussions about policy change came this week after consultant Wayne Dolcefino released a series of posts on his website deriding the city for the age and condition of police cars.
The online posts come as the city prepares to begin routine collective bargaining discussions with officers and as talks aimed at fixing the ailing pension system stall.
Dolcefino’s news releases don’t paint the whole picture, Police Chief Vernon Hale said.
“When you look at the patrol fleet overall, the old cars are primarily take-home because that’s how the program was designed in 2013,” Hale said.
The take-home program allows officers, when they’re off duty, to drive police vehicles. Cars enter the take-home system when they’re replaced by newer models and would have been sold anyway, Hale said.
It was meant to be a benefit to officers, Hale said. He didn’t know before reading Dolcefino’s posts that fleet age was an officer concern, he said.
“The most efficient way to accomplish the goal of reducing the age of the fleet is to take the old cars back that have already been replaced,” Hale said.
Without the take-home cars included, the average age of the department’s fleet is 44 months, Hale said.
But phasing out the take-home vehicles could reduce response time to emergencies, Dolcefino said.
Dolcefino worked for years as an ABC Channel 13 reporter and now operates a media consulting firm.
“If they want a war, I’ll give them a war,” Dolcefino said. “This is obviously retaliation.”
The age of police cars is a concern of police but they don’t want the take-home program to end, Sgt. John Courtney said.
“It’s one of the few benefits we had,” Courtney said.
Dolcefino has declined to say who hired him to write the posts and what he’s being paid, but he said it’s an individual, not a group who has enlisted him, he said.
The Galveston Municipal Police Association also doesn’t know who paid for the posts, but police share the views and concerns Dolcefino’s voicing, President Geoff Gainer said.
In addition to the age of cars, Dolcefino’s posts have slammed the city for providing officers pension payouts that are too little and for not disclosing locations of patrol cars.
Whether or not take-home vehicles benefit departments is a debate that’s been roiling throughout the nation for several years.
There are some positive effects of a take-home policy, such as increasing visibility of patrol cars in neighborhoods, Hale said. The take-home cars might also last longer, since only one officer is using the car for one shift, rather than four, a day, he said.
Reducing or eliminating the take-home program wouldn’t affect the department’s ability to respond to an emergency, he said.
No plan has been set yet and the department will continue reviewing options, Hale said.
About 15 to 20 cars in the Galveston fleet are take-home vehicles, he said.
Police and the city should begin collective bargaining sometime this summer, city officials said.
The two parties also aim to wrap up discussions about the pension, which has $32.1 million in unfunded liabilities, by May, when the state legislative session ends, city officials said.
If a deal can’t be reached by then, it could be up to state officials to write a compromise.