The Daily Gazette
Schenectady/Albany; Final Edition
BYLINE: KATHLEEN MOORE; Gazette Reporter
City officials will negotiate with police officers in hopes of getting some of them to voluntarily give up the city car they take home every night.
The city currently pays the commuting costs for eight officers who don’t regularly use their car for city business after they head home from work. Four K-9 officers and four evidence technicians get to bring their cars home in case they get called in for an emergency overnight. Two officers are on call each night, but the others are occasionally called in too.
Some officers live nearby, but some live more than 20 miles away and the cost of fuel and maintenance is adding up.
City employees also racked up 98 fender-benders and other accidents last year, leading the city’s insurance company to hike the rate by $1.5 million. The finance commissioner quickly negotiated a deal in which the city will essentially pay for all accident-related damage this year instead of paying the rate increase.
But that’s still a staggering cost increase. City Council members decided the best way to cut back on accidents, and on costs, would be to put an end to most commuting with city vehicles.
After months of discussion the mayor recently issued an executive order limiting vehicle usage.
City Council members had questioned why any officer, even those on call, had to have a city car. Some members proposed that everyone drive their personal vehicle, as many workers in the private sector do, and charge the city for mileage when they’re called in.
Other council members said that, at the very most, only the officers officially on call should drive a city vehicle home.
But the mayor’s policy does not set any such restrictions. It allows Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett to decide which officers get to take a car home.
seek to compromise
Bennett said he can’t simply tell officers that they have to drive their personal vehicle home. The police union would fight it, he said.
“They will argue past practice. I am also of the opinion they will win,” he said. “Knowing that, perhaps we should try to come to a compromise.”
Bennett and Chief Mark Chaires are trying to develop a policy that the officers might accept.
“We have to ascertain how many evidence techs are needed,” Bennett said. “On any likely night — is one sufficient on most nights? Probably. But we know for a homicide? We want to be careful how we do this.”
Officers’ home addresses may also be taken into consideration. One of the evidence technicians lives in the city — but his commute to the police station is longer than that of another technician who lives just outside the city, Bennett said.
“The chief and I are still in discussion with the best way to implement this and the fairest way,” he said.
He hopes to have a compromise in two weeks.
The new policy says that only managers and employees who are on call can drive a vehicle home. But that’s exactly who was driving home vehicles before the City Council began to investigate the issue. The policy does not reduce the number of city-vehicle commuters.
The policy does make one change: Only the mayor can authorize managers to drive cars home. Bennett and Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen can decide which on-call employees drive a vehicle home.
Department heads can authorize emergency take-home privileges, which must be limited to one day. They can also authorize up to five days of take-home privileges for temporary assignments.
The policy also strictly regulates motor vehicle accidents. Drivers must report every accident they are in and every traffic ticket they get, even if it’s in their personal vehicle on private time. Employees will be held personally responsible for any tickets issued to them while driving a city car.
In addition, if a city car is involved in an accident, the driver must report the incident to a direct supervisor, no matter how minor the accident.
Last year, city officials say, the mayor and other city leaders were not notified of minor accidents. The insurance rate hike came as an unpleasant surprise.
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