Baltimore Co. rationing police cars

September 15, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Like a connoisseur stashing an extra case of fine wine fo special occasions, Baltimore County has a cache of 76 brand-new 1991 Ford police cars that is being slowly doled out to help weather the recession.

Originally, 144 replacements were bought in August 1990 for $13,418.75 each. They were held in reserve after County Executive Roger B. Hayden changed the way the county deals with its police cars.

"Thank God we did," said fleet administrator Thomas D. Robinson. "We haven't bought any new cars in the last two years."

When the recession hit, Mr. Hayden decided that instead of auctioning the cars after 80,000 miles of use, he would keep them in serviceuntil they had been driven 120,000 miles. The 50 percent increase in usage saved the county about $9 million, according to county Central Services Director John Lutz.

Under the old policy, the county had been spending about $4.6 million per year for new cars, Mr. Lutz said.

L. Timothy Caslin, president of Lodge 4 of the Fraternal Order of Police, is concerned about the new policy and has asked the administration to survey the mechanical problems of cars with more than 80,000 miles.

"We're concerned that the cars are breaking down," he said, adding that several officers have complained to the union about car maintenance problems.

So far, the older police cars are holding up fairly well, though a few transmissions have developed problems, Mr. Robinson said. County cars are serviced every 4,000 miles.

The cars not yet in service are started and moved often enough to keep them in good running condition.

But county officials have had to contend with an occasional dead battery, three cars sprayed with graffiti -- which was easily rubbed off -- and six tires slit by vandals, according to Mr. Robinson.

The cars are at police headquarters and atop a high-rise garage in Towson.

Putting off using the new cars has not threatened their warranties, Mr. Robinson said, because the warranty does not take effect until a car is licensed.

Within nine months, all of the remaining cars will be in use, Mr. Lutz said.

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