HILO — The issue of whether police officers on Hawaii Island should all use fleet vehicles — known as “blue and whites” — is being raised by the county’s Cost of Government Commission.
In a report recently submitted to the Mayor’s Office, the commission recommends conversion to fleet vehicles for the Police Department, which it estimates would save $2 million throughout a five-year conversion process. That assumes use of existing county facilities to maintain them.
Currently, officers are responsible for providing and maintaining their own vehicles that have to meet certain criteria set by the department, such as engine size. Chief Paul Ferreira said officers receive a monthly subsidy of $600, and are expected to have a vehicle available at all times.
He said the subsidy is not a net gain for the officers.
“With the mileage these offices put on these cars, these cars aren’t going to last,” Ferreira said. “So, it is a losing proposition for the officers having to use their own personal vehicles.”
The commission pegs the subsidy amount a bit lower, at $562 per month, in its report.
With 406 officers receiving the subsidy as of last October, the annual cost of the subsidy program is $2,738,064, the report states.
It estimates four maintenance personnel would need to be hired during the conversion period, for an additional annual cost of $240,000. The report estimates new vehicles would cost $42,000 each in Year One and $46,000 each in Year Five.
Savings would come from each shift using the same vehicles. Officers wouldn’t be assigned their own fleet vehicle.
The report proposes purchasing 162 vehicles, or 40 percent of the number of personal vehicles in use.
Other benefits cited include increased safety for officers and a more obvious police presence, the report states. Federal or state grants also could help with the program.
Ferreria said the blue and whites are better for safety, since they have a cage in the back seat to place suspects. The department has two or three in each district for transporting dangerous people.
“You can pick up a shoplifter, a non-violent offender” in a personal vehicle, he said. “The safety issue is (when) you have someone who is violent and kicks the doors or windows. With no cage to separate them, they can actually kick the officer.”
But the chief said he doesn’t think maintenance could be handled by existing county facilities, which could significantly change the cost estimates.
“That was looked at, again, numerous times,” he said about whether converting to fleet vehicles would be cost effective. “Every time it came up, the answer was no.”
With every officer having their own vehicle, Ferreria said they can respond more quickly to natural disasters or crisis events.
“Blue and whites would be the best way to go,” he said, if they could put enough vehicles on the road.
“I don’t want to take away services for the sake of changing vehicles.”
Maui is the only county in the state with 100 percent use of fleet vehicles, Ferreira said.
The commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor, meets every few years.
Chairwoman Jennifer Jones said this commission tried to focus on a few key areas rather than each department. It also didn’t just focus on cuts.
“We really approached it differently that way,” Jones said.
“Rather than focus on cuts, as a group we focused on different ways to bring in more income to help the budget rather than more cutting and slashing. You can’t mess with things like the union contracts that are negotiated (statewide).”
She said it will be presented to the County Council in May.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.
Examples of other recommendations:
• Initiate or increase user fees for county park facilities.
• Sell/relinquish Panaewa equestrian center to the state.
• Adjust landfill fees for net zero budget.
• Explore alternatives to Ka‘u sewer projects.
• Move to a biennial budgeting process.
• Eliminate homeowner tax exemption for unpermitted buildings.
• Correct outdated codes that hinder building permits.
• Schedule staff/applicant meetings for permit pre-submittal to include all reviewing departments.