Mobile Police Chief James Barber is hoping to get approval to replace about 100 vehicles in the department’s fleet, some of which are 20 years old.
The Mobile City Council will vote Tuesday on a plan to allow Barber to use $3.2 million in the department’s capital budget to buy about 100 cars to replace the aging vehicles.
Barber said the capital money comes as a result of reorganization within the department, as a result of the MPD’s strategic plan that resulted in about a $5 million cut to the general fund.
The cuts, Barber said, kept the department from using money set aside in the capital budget from being used to pad the general budget for operations.
“By bringing general fund into budget it freed up money in the capital fund,” Barber said. “We were living beyond our means.”
The MPD fleet consists of 644 vehicles for the department’s 520 officers. The fleet is large, he explained, because at any given time up to 10 percent of the vehicles are at the municipal garage awaiting major repairs.
“I wouldn’t have to maintain a large fleet if I had operable vehicles,” Barber said.
He said the majority of the vehicles in the fleet, about 353, have more than 100,000 miles, while 223 have more than 150,000 miles and 104 have more than 200,000 miles.
“They’re junk,” he said. “That’s what we’re driving.”
Barber said the annual cost of repairs to some of the older vehicles, which date back as far as 1994, is $3,870 per year. In addition, it’s hard to find parts for some of the cars and, in some cases, parts come used from eBay, he said.
“We are replacing entire transmissions and engines in some cars,” Barber said.
The age of the cars affect fuel efficiency as well. The chief said, on average, the department spends about $945 more per car a year on gas than it would if the cars were newer. Plus, he said, new cars come with high-mileage warranties that would result in free maintenance “until we get up there” in mileage, he said.
Some of the cars in the fleet is a safety issue for officers and civilians. For instance, last month, the ball joints fell out of two patrol cars, resulting in the front wheels coming off of the vehicles. Barber said in one instance a patrol car collided with a light pole, as a result of the problem. The officer wasn’t injured, but the outcome could’ve been worse, he said.
“What if he’d been in pursuit?” Barber asked. “We’d probably be burying him right now.”
There are also liability issues related to the age of the cars.
“We’re a walking civil suit,” Barber said.
The city’s top cop doesn’t plan to add any new officers and grow the force until he can properly equip and pay them. He said based on population, the MPD should have 662 officers on staff, but they can’t afford it.
“If we had 662 officers we couldn’t pay them, and we couldn’t equip them,” he said.
Barber commended the city administration and council for the support of the MPD to this point.
“I can’t say enough good things,” he said.