The Salt Lake Police Department should refine its take-home police car program providing 269 officers, some living in neighboring counties, with patrol cars to drive home daily, the City Council agreed Thursday.
The program was the subject of an audit released this week that found the program beneficial because it lowered maintenance costs and increased police visibility - but at the price of $123,000 in commuting costs paid by the city.The council, at a Committee of the Whole meeting, recommended Salt Lake Police Chief Michael P. Chabries retain the program but review its management so that enough off-duty responses were made by participating officers.
The audit found that officers were responding a little more than once per week and 25 percent of participating officers made no responses to incidents when they were off duty, which did not meet the program's objectives.
Councilwoman Florence Bittner pointed out that some officers were making off-duty responses and some were not. "There's an inequity and what are you going to do about it?" she asked Chabries.
Additionally, the council recommended Chabries review whether all officers, no matter where they lived, could participate in the plan. Some council members objected to participation by officers who lived in, for example, Ogden.
"I'm wondering if we're really meeting the goals of the program because so few (police officers) live in Salt Lake City," Councilman Tom Godfrey said, noting only 27 percent of participating officers lived in the city.
Chabries should study whether a boundary or radius should be establish that would prohibit officers who live far away from participating in the program, the council agreed.
The council rejected one audit recommendation to reinstate the program's reimbursement charge. Before 1986, participating officers paid $10 to $20 monthly - depending on where they lived - for commuting costs.
Had the council reinstated the reimbursement requirement, commuting costs would have been cut from $123,000 to $67,000, the audit said. But Police Union President David Greer said the cost would lower already-poor police morale.
"I think the morale issue has got to be a big problem," said Councilwoman Roselyn Kirk.
Defending the program, Chabries said "I'll be the first to admit that this program needs to be managed." But "the value of the program goes far beyond cost . . . it goes to the value of the service provided."
The program has resulted in hundreds of hours of police service "at no cost to the city" by off-duty officers responding to incidents, he said. Since July 1987, two off-duty officers pulled victims from burning buildings and only Wednesday one off-duty officer in a take-home car ended a vehicle chase.
Furthermore, maintenance costs have been reduced 21 percent because of the program, Chabries said, quoting the audit. "People take better care of their cars when it's their car," he said.
Chabries said he would begin work on putting the council's recommendations into effect and report back to the council in a matter of weeks.