“We had thought about it for quite a while, but we were never in a position that we could do that because of the economic downturn,” Mayor Patricia Vaughn said. “We had not been able to replace our vehicles over the years as we needed to.”
If the policy were to go into effect, which would happen July 1, eight out of the 22 members of the police force would be allowed to take their cars home initially, but the goal is for four more officers to begin taking cars home by the end of next year. Right now, none of the officers are allowed to take cars home.
The first eight to take cars home would be lieutenants and sergeants.
The policy is moving forward, the mayor said, because the police department ordered new cars and there is an opportunity to take better care of patrol cars by not having them run all day long.
“When you have a car running 24/7, you’re running that car out,” she said.
Rather than have one car driven all day by different officers as they change shifts, each car will travel with one police officer. So, when the officer has time off, the car does too.
“We just feel like the cars will last much longer,” Vaughn said.
A take-home car is convenient for an officer, the mayor said, because he can leave his computer and equipment there.
“This way, if we need an officer, and he’s in his car, he’s already equipped and ready to go,” Vaughn said.
Allowing police to take their patrol cars home is common among small metro-Atlanta cities, Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn said.
Marietta police can take their cars home if they are a detective or a member of a special unit, such as SWAT or the Marietta Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, Flynn said. These officers are selected because they can be called to the scenes of crimes or accidents at any time, but patrol officers, who are not on call, can’t take their cars home in Marietta.
Powder Springs is following the lead of many other metro Atlanta cities and it would allow patrol police to take cars home once it has enough cars.
Flynn said those departments that don’t allow police to take their cars home might have problems with recruiting new officers. It’s a part of the job description many new officers look for when choosing a new department.
“(Police officers) see a take-home car as a big benefit,” Flynn said.
The Cobb Police Department, which does not allow patrol officers to take their cars home, but does allow it for specialist the Cobb Board of Commissioners and county manager about forming a policy similar to that of Powder Springs, said Sam Heaton, Cobb’s director of public safety. Right now, about 50 out of the 500 police department members can take their cars home, Heaton said.
The policy is still in the planning stages, Heaton said, and there is no plan to put it into effect anytime soon.
“Right now, it’s just talk and discussing the cost and what it would look like,” Heaton said.
Heaton said the county is looking into it because he sees benefits to the program, such as higher visibility of police and quicker response times to crime scenes.
Some restrictions on the use of the police cars are listed in the Powder Springs policy.
Officers cannot run errands while driving to and from work if they’re out of the way, and they cannot buy or transport alcohol in the cars. Once at home, the officers have to use their personal cars for all other driving while off duty, the mayor said.
Powder Springs police will have to pay $0.21 per mile to drive to and from their house if they live outside the city limits, Vaughn said, but those who live inside the city limits can drive home for free. The mayor said the city will also pay to fill the cars with gas.
The department plans to give the four new cars, which are expected to arrive at the beginning of August, to its four lieutenants. Then, the cars that previously belonged to the lieutenants will go to the four sergeants in the department.
In the future, the mayor said, the police plan to continue buying new cars so more officers will be able to have them to take home.