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Marion PD pining for new cars

NEW RIDE:Marion Police Officer Matthew Andry with the department’s new Ford Police Interceptor SUV.

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

The Marion Police Department is hurting for new squad cars and equipment, according to Chief Angela Haley.

In a time when the City of Marion is on a “bare bones budget” as Mayor Jess Alumbaugh has previously stated, Haley said it’s not news that a city department is in need of new equipment but low on funds.

“It’s a problem everywhere right now because money is tight,” Haley said.

Currently, the MPD has a fleet of over 74 police cars, with 64 officers to use them. Some of the cars still in commission are 2003 models, according to Dep. Chief Stephen Dorsey, and they always keep their cars in the event that another breaks down.

She said the department can have as many as a dozen cars being worked on at once.

“They’re not driven like normal cars,” Haley said.

Patrol cars are on and running as long as an officer is inside or on duty, MPD Officer Matthew Andry explained. Though he drives one of the newer squad cars, Andry said he keeps his running almost at all times to keep his equipment on.

Inside his car is a laptop, radio, scanner, printer, and other equipment that all needs the battery of the car to function. Andry said if he turns his car off while out on patrol, either he’ll have a dead battery by the time he comes back or he’ll have to reboot all of his equipment.

The cost of installing the equipment found in Andry’s and most MPD vehicles can run as high as $3,500, according to Haley.

She said the department tries to “keep what we can and use what we have.”

That comes in the form of recycling interior and exterior equipment for patrol vehicles when possible. Emergency lights, dashboard equipment, and anything else that can be pulled from an old car and placed in a new one is reused to reduce costs.

A new light bar for the top of a squad car can cost up to $2,500 by itself. Meanwhile, a new car alone before necessary additions for law enforcement is $25,500 with negotiation, according to Haley. She said a new car fitted with police gear is around $30,000.

Additionally, having to switch manufacturers from Chevrolet to Ford vehicles has made some equipment transfers impossible.

“Things like cages that go on the windows are made specifically for those vehicles, so we can’t just take it out and put it in one of the newer ones,” Haley said.

Annually, the department is allocated funds appropriated by the city. According to Marion Controller Julie Flores, MPD can use money from listed under machine and equipment in the police budget, totaling in $73,000, or the $130,000 listed under equipment repair for issuing new cars or repairing old ones.

This is also the first year MPD vehicle maintenance has not been maintained out of the Street Department budget, according to Flores.

Haley said her minimum goal is to purchase six new cars this year, and start a “meaningful rotation,” of old and new vehicles, totaling in $180,000 if possible.

Only one has been purchased so far this year, a 2018 Ford Interceptor utility vehicle.

However, Haley said additional equipment needs and personnel loss have created a domino effect in funds.

She said equipment for Tasers currently issued to MPD officers will not longer be manufactured, creating a problem that needs immediate attention and could result in a large investment.

“This is equipment that saves injuries to both officers and civilians,” Haley explained.

However, updating the Tasers in the department would mean paying a total of $50,000 in the next five years.

Additionally, retiring officers with “irreplaceable decades of experience,” create overtime for those currently serving with MPD, and it takes a year and a half to train a new officer and put them out on patrol.

“It’s just like a family budget, you have to find balance and address unforeseen issues along the way,” she said.

Maintenance, overtime, new equipment, training and new programs all come with a cost that Haley said the department “just doesn’t have.”

They are searching for solutions in order to add new cars to the fleet, according to Dorsey, which may include leasing 25 vehicles.

Though more efficient at obtaining more new vehicles sooner, Dorsey said he’s unsure if the burden of cost is a sustainable solution.