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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Apr. 27, 200612:00 PM EST

Safety comes with a price

by: Rachel Witkowski

by Rachel Witkowski

Staff Writer

It’s getting expensive to replace police cars in Jacksonville.

The number of Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office police vehicles that were totaled in wrecks has almost doubled in the last 18 months. The cost to replace those cars: $1.38 million.

Legislation is working its way through City Council that will appropriate the funds to replace 65 police package cars with an average cost of $21,155. In previous years, approximately 35-40 police cars were totaled per year, according to director of police services, George Dandelake. But the amount jumped to 65 vehicles from October 2004 to March 2006, he said.

The City Council also reduced the total number of new police vehicles it would provide the JSO in the 2005-2006 budget. The sheriff’s office was cut 65 police vehicles this year, for a total of 185 new cars, according to Dandelake.

According to Dandelake, the $1.38 million is for 65 new Chevy Impalas that will replace those totaled over an 18-month period and does not make up for budget cuts.

“We were at the point where we didn’t have any vehicles to give them (the officers),” said Dandelake. “The wrecks were what was killing us.”

Of the 65 vehicles damaged beyond repair, 19 were found to be the driving officer’s fault while 46 were totaled thanks to another driver’s fault, according to Dandelake. Most wrecks were caused by running a red light or a vehicle getting rear-ended by another driver.

In addition to the totaled police vehicles, Dandelake said another 1,500 police cars have been damaged since January 2004. The damages included vandalism or when a person taken into custody kicks out the back window of the police car, he said.

A JSO safety review board determines whether or not an officer is at fault when a wreck occurs, according to Chief of Support Services Carol Hladki. The board also determines the level of discipline if an officer is found responsible for a crash, vehicle pursuit or incident. The severity of the discipline is based on a point system that can apply to all officers operating a police vehicle. However, it’s an internal points system and does not affect their civilian driving record unless the board votes it as a civil or criminal case, according to Hladki.

The points range from 1-12 and remain on the officer’s record for five years, according to the JSO’s safety board general order No. 10. The level of discipline is more severe as the points increase. A case the board considers as “careless driving” — the lowest level — can range from 1-4 points. The officer could also receive a minimum discipline of counseling to a maximum written reprimand or loss of a take home vehicle for up to 15 days. The highest level called, “reckless driving,” which ranges from 9-12 points, could result in a maximum discipline of 80 hours suspension, up to a one-year loss of the officer’s take home car privileges and a JSO license revocation for 30 days. If the points total 13 or more, the officer could be terminated.

The decision to repair or replace a police vehicle is determined by a Motor Pool appraiser who will look at the vehicle’s age, amount of damage, service history, problem history and useful life, said Dandelake. Most police vehicles do not last beyond four years, he said.

The total vehicle cap of marked and unmarked cars at JSO is 1,850 and though Dandelake said they have a sufficient number, JSO is currently under the cap. He expects to get the 65 police vehicle packages by mid May, he said. The 2006 Impalas will include a special engine and wiring, a plastic seat, side bars, modified trunk space, red and blue flashers, headlights and real lights — totaling more than $4,300 in police modifications.

What goes into a cop car

You may be able to buy a 2006 Chevy Impala from any of a number of local dealers, but for obvious reasons you can’t get a police package vehicle. When JSO takes order of a new vehicle, much of what makes the car a police car has been installed. JSO will install the cruiser’s laptop, radio and other devices. The following is a breakdown of what constitutes a police cruiser and the cost.

2006 Chevy Impala (factory model) $16,820
Light bar $1,584.48
Installation of light bar $96
Cage $306
Installation of cage $65
Decals $159.31
Installation of decals $75
Rear door panels $105
Interior light $65
Shotgun rack $40
Push bumper $165
Installation of radio wiring $75
Installation of laptop stand $20
Alarm system $335
Plastic seat $575
Rear window bars $148
Headlight flasher, strobes and rear lights $522

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