Police department will benefit from leasing program to get new patrol cars next year

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - St. Helens Police Department vehicles sit inside the police station garage. The department will start getting new vehicles next year thanks to a fleet management lease program the city has signed up for. The St. Helens Police Department will start replacing its fleet of patrol vehicles in 2019 with brand new vehicles.

In early November, the St. Helens City Council approved a contract with Enterprise Fleet Management. Through the contract, the city is able to lease vehicles rather than purchase them outright, which allows the city to replace vehicles on a more regular basis and to equip employees with modern, safer technology.

St. Helens Finance Director Matt Brown proposed the idea as a way to reduce maintenance costs, while also allowing the city to get newer vehicles to be used in critical positions, like the police department. Brown became familiar with the program when he worked for the city of Forest Grove.

St. Helens Police Chief Brian Greenway explained that the fleet management leasing program is really as much about curbing expenses as it is about getting more modern and safer vehicles for SHPD officers to use. Officer spend hours a day in their vehicles when they're on the job.

"That's their office. It's important that we give them the best equipment available," Greenway said.

With most vehicles, automobile manufacturers offer three-year or 36,000-mile warranty coverage, but in a small town like St. Helens, many of those vehicles reach the time limits of the warranty before they reach higher mileage limits, Greenway explained. The vehicles then age out of the warranty, but when the cars need later service and maintenance work, the department is saddled with paying for the maintenance costs.

The goal of the leasing program is to be able to cycle out vehicles roughly every five years. By working with a leasing program, maintenance and warranty work is included in the five-year time frame the vehicle would be leased, Greenway added.

Brown outlined briefly how the leasing program works and what some of the benefits are.

"We will begin leasing vehicles from Enterprise. Through management/tracking of the fleet program, we will be able to evaluate when a car has reached its peak efficiency and trade it in before it tails off. Enterprise sells the vehicle and the equity from each vehicle is used to pay down the next vehicle to be leased," he explained by email.

SHPD Sgt. Jose Castilleja noted that police vehicles go through greater wear and tear than civilian vehicles and it's not just about high-speed chases. In the course of an average day, officers make traffic stops, start and stop their vehicles often, and make U-turns multiple times.

While it seems like a small thing, Castilleja explained, when you calculate how many times a day an officer might make a U-turn, just going 15 mph engages the brakes, tires and steering column. When you look at how many times a week that happens, it starts to add up. Officers need to have tools that are in top working condition, Castilleja said.

"It's not the concept of a shiny new thing. Officers are looking for something reliable, comfortable and dependable," Castilleja said. "The biggest thing is dependability and having a reliable asset to provide the best service for our community. Getting there is just as important as calling for help."

Having newer vehicles also presents an overall professional appearance as well, Greenway explained.

"One, were saving money for the citizens and police department and we're equipping officers with new technology," Greenway said. "It also presents a more aesthetically pleasing and professional look."

The police department has also made mockups of the new style and look of the vehicles. Instead of the current white-paint models with reflective blue lettering, the new ones will be black with a white and blue side panel.

Currently, SHPD owns seven patrol vehicles, a code enforcement vehicle and four staff vehicles. The oldest patrol car is a 2008 model, while the newest is a 2015.

A brand new police vehicle, including outfitting it with radio equipment, police lights, a cage partition, safety equipment and other safety items and systems, costs an average of $50,000.

Brown added that if the lease program is successful with the police department, it may be expanded to other departments.

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