GALVESTON

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.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

(20) comments

Lisa Blair

We want to complain about the age and safety of the cars, but we still want to use them for our own benefit. Y’all need a better “consultant”.

Lisa Lohmann

The Take Home Program is one of the benefits to encourage officers to move to the island.

Robert Braeking

I suspect that the fleet is not old enough to justify replacement. With proper maintenance a Honda CRV® can go 500,000 miles. I have empirical data. How much further can a Crown Vic go? My 'fleet' is 75% over 15 years old.

Ron Shelby

We all recognize that cars are being made better than they were forty years ago, but the strenuous use of police vehicles in a salty coastal location absolutely results in a much shorter life, and impacts their reliability. Safety, health and welfare of our officers and the public always comes first. These vehicles are not driven in the same manner that a regular vehicle is. In that case, individual vehicle maintenance costs need to, and are, tracked by vehicle. Regular replacement schedules also help local government finances by both keeping maintenance costs under control, and also by leveling capital vehicle expenditures (very few “spikes”) over the years by consistently replacing only a certain percent of the fleet each year. (E.g. 1/5th of all vehicles might be replaced each year, giving you a five year life for a vehicle before replacement.) This keeps officers in safe vehicles and response times low.

Ron Shelby

As for Dulcefino and his “spin”...I personally take it with a grain of salt. I’d give a lot more credibility to an independent certified outside performance auditor in government operations,...probably not from a former sensationalist reporter paid by an unknown person with unknown motives.

Lisa Blair

Yes, Ron and if you look at his GalvestonBlue.com and the online petition, it empties that these are Patrol car that are over 100,000 miles and past their prime. Nowhere does he indicate that these are only the cars in the Take Home program.

Lisa Blair

Implies.

Clinton Stevens

Having a safe fleet and a takehome program are not mutually exclusive.

That being said, I suspect most officers would Uber to their calls if the city would fund their retirement in accordance with the governing state statute and provide a competitive wage.

Lisa Blair

Without the take home cars the average age of the fleet is 44 months. Is that not safe?

Clinton Stevens

The point I was making is that it is possible to have both a safe fleet AND a takehome program. It’s standard practice at most police agencies.

This fleet issue is really not worth debating. It’s incumbent on a municipality to provide the equipment needed for officers to do their job safely. Or as safely as possible, given the nature of the career.

While I tend to agree that the decision by city management to revoke the takehome program was retaliatory in nature, it is the citizens who lose out by having a decreased presence in the neighborhoods.

I think your average officer is more concerned with instability in the retirement system and lagging pay. Galveston ranks dead last on the pay scale when compared to every agency within 100 miles that employs more than 50 officers and has the lowest retirement benefit in the state.

Rusty Schroeder

Clinton, how many of the take home vehicles travel across the causeway and are not in driveways on the Island ? I am asking for the citizens who are losing out from a decreased presence in the neighborhoods.

Lisa Blair

It’s being debated because your consultant has used it as a point of contention on both the website and the online petition. You could see the revocation as retaliatory or you could see it as an appropriate response by the Chief to a safety concern from officers.

George Croix

".... it is the citizens who lose out by having a decreased presence in the neighborhoods."
Agreed.
Few things deter bad neighborhood acting more than a Police car parked in full view. Better some places, than no places, imo.....
AND the Police are essentially a 24/7 business. 'Off duty' is it applies to Police is a term that is only correct from the standpoint of not officially being at their regularly scheduled shift duties.
It's not like they can close up shop each day and then worry about it all tomorrow.........

Jarvis Buckley

They need to be careful what they wish for.

Vernon Hale


I operate from a place of love and civility. There are win l-win scenarios in any negotiation. I am not sure violent terminology such as “war” promotes either. The consultant has never once attempted to talk to me about plans, to ask questions, etc but my door will remain open for conversation not war. Yes, I Love my cops and this community. I refuse to go to war with my family and these officers are in fact my family. I will continue to love them unconditionally and operate based on data and best practices not the news or social media.

Mary Branum

Thank you Chief Hale

Don Schlessinger

One thing for sure, hiring Wayne Dolcefino has certainly changed my mind on the discussion. Negatively! If the police union has the money to go across the causeway and hire an expensive consultant do they need a raise?

Rusty Schroeder

Don kinda what I was thinking, I thought the city came to the table about a month ago with a proposal that was agreeable by both sides. Now it looks like the POA is doubling down and unwilling to negotiate. I have said it before, I don't think a decision from Austin is in their best interests. I do hope to get an answer if any cars leave the island to mainland homes, and if so the percentage. [unsure][sneaky]

Clinton Stevens

To my knowledge, the city has never come to the table with any proposal. And you’re correct, a decision by Austin would be disastrous for both parties. It would cost the city tens of millions and send officers scrambling find employment elsewhere. That would include the bulk of your current supervisory and command staff who have invested 10-20 years here and would suddenly find their retirement virtually worthless.

To answer your other question, 0.00%. That has never be a thing.

Cary Semar

The logic of this decision is false. You could use the same reasoning to justify shooting all the poor people to raise the average income. Reductio ad absurdem. QED.

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