Police replace old scooters with Trackers

November 05, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

First, the mayor turned in his Lincoln Town Car for a Cherokee. Now, the Baltimore police are turning in their Cushman scooters for sporty four-wheel drive all-terrain vehicles.

The first of 23 Geo Trackers will be hitting the streets Monday for use by police officers, replacing the three-wheel scooters that have been a department trademark for nearly 30 years.

"I had safety concerns for the officers in the Cushmans, and they don't present the right image for the officers," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who approved the approximately $300,000 purchase of the Trackers. "The Trackers are far more practical vehicles. The Cushmans are dangerous, underpowered, cold in the winter, and they provide very little protection if they're hit," Mr. Frazier said.

Those problems became magnified last winter during a series of ice storms in which officers in the scooters complained of freezing working conditions. The scooters had no heaters and are not known for their tight handling on icy roads.

Each of the white Trackers -- which cost roughly $13,000 and resemble sporty-looking Jeeps -- will have heat and air-conditioning. Light bars will be installed, but not sirens, since the Trackers won't be used for car stops, pursuits or other traffic violations.

They'll be used as transportation for officers in the neighborhood service and for the foot patrol divisions in the city's nine police precincts. Each district will get two or three new vehicles, and one will be assigned to the city's police academy for training purposes.

Foot patrol officers will use them to get from post to post, and neighborhood officers will drive them to their crime-prevention duties.

But while some officers welcome the better performance and comfort of the Trackers, union officials -- who have scoffed at the commissioner's ideas to change patrol car colors and other aesthetics -- are not happy.

"It's amazing how they can find money for their little projects, yet they can't find money to pay their officers on the street," said Officer Gary McLhinney, the newly elected president of the city police union. He said the trackers are "another image idea, another pet project" of Mr. Frazier.

"I would have preferred to see this kind of money put to better use so we could remain competitive in our salary structure and keep qualified officers . . . As usual, the officers' pay is the least of their concerns," Mr. McLhinney said.

Officers' salaries start at $24,200 a year and top off at about $34,000 a year, less than those of police departments in the surrounding suburban counties. Union officials have blamed salaries and lack of raises for an exodus of officers in the past year.

Officer McLhinney said he had also spoken to the commissioner about a safety concern with the Trackers -- namely, that Jeep-type vehicles have a tendency to flip over more easily than the normal vehicle. The commissioner said he hopes to install roll bars on the Trackers as a safety feature. As for the cost question, Mr. Frazier was not swayed.

"This is one-time money, being used so we can substitute better vehicles for the Cushmans," Mr. Frazier said. "Improvements are necessary. Every time we get a nickel, [the union] wants us to give it to them in salary. That's not always possible."

All two dozen scooters, originally brought into use by city police in 1965, will be taken off the streets in upcoming weeks.

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