Members of the Duluth City Council debated whether to modify the policy that allows police officers to take home police cars at their work session Monday night. The issue is expected to be discussed further at the December council meeting or next work session in January.
The Duluth Police Department currently has a vehicle take home policy that allows officers to drive their police vehicles home as long as they live within four statute miles of the department. Expanding the allowable distance to 25 statute miles has been proposed.
Councilman Billy Jones said he had suggested the change as a benefit to the city’s police officers. In talking to the city’s police officers, this is a major issue, Jones said. “They see all the other [police] agencies doing it.” It would also serve as a tool for the city to recruit and retain police officers, he said. “To me, it’s a no brainer.”
Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher was not in attendance at the Nov. 26 work session, so City Manager Tim Shearer reviewed results of a recent survey of police car take home policies at nearby cities and presented information on the advantages of expanding Duluth’s four-mile limit.
The survey showed the following mileage policies:
- Lilburn - 26 statute miles outside the city limits
- Suwanee - 20 statute miles outside the city limits
- Norcross - 30 statue miles outside the city limits
- Lawrenceville - 15 statute miles outside Gwinnett County
- Snellville - 8 statute miles outside the city limits
- Loganville - 20 statute miles outside the city limits
The advantages to changing Duluth’s policy included improving police officer morale, freeing up parking spaces at the Duluth Public Safety Center, providing quicker response times to police calls, and increasing police visibility.
Allowing officers to take police cars home would also reduce overtime and redundant trips caused by police officers having to go to the police department to pick up their police cars before making court appearances at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville.
Here are the specific reasons supporting the policy change that were cited:
- To increase the number of available parking places at the Duluth Public Safety Center, where the Municipal Court and Police Department are located, alleviating a parking shortage for the public attending court, paying fines, and obtaining police and municipal court reports, documents and services. When officers report to duty they drive their personal vehicles and park them in public parking spaces, thereby reducing the number of spaces available to the public. Extending the take home policy would free up an estimated 34 to 41 parking spaces.
- To provide quicker response time to certain types of police calls and thereby increasing the opportunity for apprehending the criminal.
- To provide quicker response by off-duty personnel when they are called to duty due to an emergency situation.
- To provide increased incentive and morale to the officers.
- To reduce the number of overall miles driven in police and personal vehicles by reducing redundant trips, improving air quality and safety of officers, and reducing total amount of fuel consumed.
- To increase police visibility in and around the City of Duluth to deter crime and enhance police officer recognition.
The policy change would result in additional fuel costs estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 more a year.
During the discussion, it became apparent that many of the officers do not live in the city. Councilman Greg Whitlock expressed concern that changing the policy would encourage police officers to live outside the city. Jones responded that finding affordable housing in Duluth on a police officer’s salary is difficult.
Councilwoman Marsha Bomar indicated she would like to ask Chief Belcher questions about the proposed change before making a decision. And Councilman Jim Dugan said he would like to know where Duluth's police officers live.
The council agreed to place the matter on the agenda for the Dec. 10 council meeting at which time the police chief could hopefully be present. There was a possibility that the chief would be on vacation at that time. If the chief could not be available, the matter would be put on the agenda for the Jan. 28 council work session.