In the midst of contract negotiations, newly installed Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan said he would, with the assistance of a small stipend, drive his own vehicle to-and-from work.
Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent said that offer signaled Strachan’s willingness to change the culture of the police department. Then, early this week, while still waiting for background checks to clear before being able to don a uniform, Lent said that Strachan came to her with a proposal to use more motorcycle patrols in an effort to reduce fuel costs.
The police department, though, still has a long way to go in cutting down on its gas guzzling. But Strachan said this week that fuel use is “certainly on our radar screen.”
“Of course it is,” he said. “Just as it is for law enforcement in several cities that are looking at reduced resources.”
Strachan, still settling in at BPD, said that it will take him some time to evaluate fuel use in terms of finding a balance between vehicles’ mileage and special needs of running electronics, lights, etc.
“I have not been here long enough to come to conclusions as to whether fuel use is unusual or low right now,” he said.
The Bremerton Police Department spent $192,014.46 on fuel last year, a considerably higher amount than most police agencies allocate on a per vehicle basis. It’s not exactly clear, though, how many vehicles that money went towards or what the per vehicle cost allocation is.
Public Works Director Chal Martin provided documents this week that indicate the police department’s fuel allocation went toward 73 vehicles, despite the fact that there are only 57 sworn officers. In a late 2011 analysis, per vehicle fuel consumption was calculated using 38 vehicles.
Assuming that Bremerton’s fuel expense was spread out among 38 vehicles in 2012, the local average would be $5,306.23 per rig. Using 73 BPD vehicles, the average would be $2,630.34. By comparison, the Seattle Police Department spent $2,491,251 last year on fuel for 708 vehicles, which works out to $3,518.72 per car.
While there seems to be some confusion as to how much fuel is going into how many vehicles, there is no doubt that Bremerton residents are used to seeing idling patrol cars. On Tuesday night, shortly after a ferry departed for Seattle, a running BPD cruiser sat in front of the terminal, engine running, with an officer checking out the website eBay via his in-board laptop.
When asked about the incident, Strachan said, “I wasn’t there. I don’t know what exactly the circumstances were.”
The police department leads the city in fuel consumption and at the start of last year Capt. Tom Wolfe said he was encouraging officers not to leave vehicles running unnecessarily during patrols. He also said that bicycle patrols, when practical, could cut down on fuel costs.
Mayor Lent noted this week that several vehicles have also gotten a second battery to help power vehicles while burning less fuel.
“We’re always looking for ways to be more efficient in our gas mileage,” she added.
The police department, though, while the biggest user of fuel, is not alone in its troubles with keeping track of, and tabs on, fuel consumption.
In June of last year, City Auditor Gary Nystul issued a report reviewing fuel purchases in 2011, a year in which all Bremerton departments spent $573,711 on gas. In his audit, Nystul noted that some city departments carefully monitor fuel consumption while others do not. The audit also revealed that many employees incorrectly enter odometer readings.
Nystul made a series of recommendations eight months ago in his report, many of which have not been enacted, including the call for a city-wide overseer of fuel use.
“Management should establish an overall policy and procedure to ensure adequate monitoring,” he wrote in the audit. “One person needs to be responsible for the overall fuel operation.”
Nystul said this week that the city has also failed to monitor odometer readings and miles per gallon on an annual basis.
One of Nystul’s recommendations, to automatically download fire department fuel use to the city’s online system was enacted with new software.