The Annapolis Police Department is allowing city officers to take home patrol cars as a perk for the rank-and-file - and their neighbors.
Police commanders said their new take-home car policy was designed not only as benefit to officers but also to increase police visibility in communities.
"When a car is parked in a neighborhood, no one knows exactly where the officer is, just that an officer is nearby," said Lt. Gregory Imhof, who is overseeing the program. "And when officers drive the cars to the store or to do an errand, that's one more patrol car we have on the streets to respond if something major happens."
Four officers have take-home cars now, but police commanders say they hope to have take-home cars for at least four more officers by July.
The pilot program started about a month ago, when police officials decided to rehabilitate several cruisers in the fleet instead of waiting until the cars could no longer be used.
Running 24 hours a day - almost constantly, in city traffic - police cars usually last about 100,000 miles, said Imhof. Even though it costs about $7,000 to rehabilitate the cars, police say they're saving money in the long run by replacing worn engine parts early and giving the cars a break by using them only eight to 10 hours a day.
"This way they're actually being parked, with the engine off," Imhof said.
Only officers who live in Annapolis are eligible to take home a patrol car.
"We wanted this to be an incentive for officers to live in the city," Imhof said.
But, he said, few officers take home cars because most find it too expensive to live in the city.
"Realistically, our biggest problem with this program is finding officers to take them home," Imhof said.
Officers are only allowed to drive the patrol car within the city limits, but they can transport their families and friends when they're off-duty, Imhof said.
Having a take-home car comes with added responsibility. Officers are required to monitor the police radio whenever they're in the car, and they must be willing to respond to calls off-duty.
"If they see an accident, they have to stop," Imhof said.
Many police departments, including Anne Arundel County's, have a take-home car policy with similar restrictions and obligations.
Still, Officer Timothy Lowe Sr. said having a take-home car isn't that much extra work.
"Officers already respond to calls if they see something happen when they're off-duty," he said.
For Lowe, there are several benefits. There's a discount on his car insurance because his work vehicle is owned by the city. He doesn't have to lug out all his equipment and personal belongings after each shift.
Of course, his 11-year-old son loves it.
"Everywhere we go, he asks, `Are we going to take the police car?'"
Lowe said his neighbors are happy to have it parked nearby.
"I've had them say they're glad to see it in the neighborhood and that it makes them feel safer."
Neighborhood watch coordinators say the patrol cars are a deterrent to crime.
"When people see a police car, they're more careful about what they do," said Cecelia Gregory, a neighborhood watch captain in Victor Haven. "It's a good idea."