Purchase of new police

A proposal to purchase 12 new police vehicles at a cost of $508,884 heads to the Fayetteville Board of Mayor and Aldermen for a vote this week.

First discussed in the board’s January work session, the proposal gained additional discussion last week as officials met for their February work session, and while aldermen don’t disagree that the vehicles are needed, at least a portion of the board expressed concerns with purchasing so many at one time.

The $508,884 price tag for the 12 vehicles – 10 fully equipped Tahoes and two trucks – is almost $100,000 less than the ballpark figure discussed last month, said Alderman Danny Bryant, noting that the figure has since been solidified. Under the proposal, the units would be purchased on the state contract, with funding coming from a low-interest loan at an interest rate of 2.8 percent over three years.

“We’d end up paying $22,265 in interest over the 36 months,” said Bryant, noting that would be based on monthly payments, less costly than annual payments. If, however, the board decided to only purchase the 10 Tahoes and not the trucks, the total cost would drop to $451,668 and require $19,762 in interest.

“I’m just making a request on behalf of the head of the police department,” he said. “I’m not going to get in a huge debate with anybody over either of those choices, but I will say this, the best deal overall is the 12 units.”

Vice Mayor Dorothy Small said she had also researched the proposal and discussed it with the police chief, and noting that in finance, Alderman Jeff Alder had suggested the purchase of six vehicles based on mileage, she said she was initially leaning toward the six. Considering, though, that the chief is looking at starting a fleet replacement schedule in 2021, she said she would favor the purchase of either 10 or 12 units now.

“I think we should get the most that we can at this interest rate, because we don’t know where interest rates are going,” she said, noting that tariffs could also impact the automobile industry. “So 10 or 12 – if 10 is favorable, that sounds good; 12 sounds even better.”

Alderman Rachael Martinez asked the chief of police to explain the pursuit policy in the city and why the Tahoes would be more desirable in comparison with the Impalas many officers currently drive.

“We do have a pursuit policy, and we will pursue a criminal when needed,” said Chief Richard Howell, saying the city’s policy meets state law according to a Tennessee Municipal League review. “The pursuit policy pertains to a violent crime – if it is a stabbing, shooting, aggravated assault or armed robbery, we will pursue.”

Officials went on to recall a pursuit in which the city assisted the county several years ago. The suspect, a violent offender who had fired on an officer in Madison County, Ala., and fled into Lincoln County and subsequently fired upon a Fayetteville officer repeatedly with an AK-47 assault rifle as he was attempting to make the stop in the area of Kirkland. That city officer was driving an Impala.

“The decision was made for us to move toward the Tahoes because of that particular incident,” said Howell. “From a safety standpoint, the Impalas set lower to the ground ... and they can shoot straight into the car. With the Tahoes, you sit up higher off the ground, and you’ve got a little more protection in front of you ... You also have more room inside the vehicle to move right and left.”

“We all know police deaths are up,” said Alderman Tonya Allen, noting that she had also researched the question. “The highest percent are officers under gunfire, and the highest percentage of those are officers who are ambushed at their vehicles. There was an accident analysis last year, and the second leading cause of death for officers is accidents, and of those, the greatest percentage is officers responding to an emergency. They say the higher-profile vehicles are more visible to the public in emergencies, so the Tahoes would be safer vehicles in those situations as well.”

Returning to the issue of the number of vehicles to move forward with purchasing, Alder explained his position – “Twelve is almost half the fleet, and I just think that’s a little excessive as far as replacing that many at one time,” he said, adding that he believes the new units are needed but a better rotation schedule would be preferred.

“I think we all agree that the Tahoes are the safer vehicles for our police officers,” said Alderman Donna Hartman. “We all want our officers to have better, reliable vehicles, but I’m with Jeff, I think 12 is excessive .... I think we would be better served to maybe look at four for each of the next three years. I don’t think you want your fleet aging out at the same time.”

Hartman also noted that with a current fleet of 27 vehicles, repair costs for 2018 amounted to $19,109 – that’s an average repair cost per vehicle of $700, she noted, adding that while she realizes costs vary per vehicle, she doesn’t see the cost of repairs overall as excessive.

As officials discussed whether to move the proposal forward to a vote, four of the six aldermen ultimately agreed it should be placed on the agenda of the board meeting this week.

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