County-owned police
cars urged

HILO >> Big Island police should gradually switch to a fleet of county-owned marked patrol cars, rather than unmarked subsidized personal vehicles, a county auditor's report said.

"It is ill-advised to persist in defending a policy of unmarked cars," read the Hawaii County legislative auditor's report distributed to the County Council last week and released to the media this week.

The report said not all county police cars must be marked. It said a U.S. Justice Department survey indicates that jurisdictions comparable to Hawaii County typically maintain 42 percent of police cars as unmarked.

Estimates have differed on how costly the conversion from personal cars to a county fleet would be.

Last March, West Hawaii CrimeStoppers Inc. released a study that claimed a marked patrol fleet would increase police visibility, reduce crime and save the Police Department $225,399.

A Police Department study of the issue determined it would cost $1.6 million more annually to convert to a marked fleet.

Another committee formed by Mayor Harry Kim said it would cost between $3.8 million and $9.7 million annually to convert to marked patrol cars or have a hybrid fleet of both marked and unmarked patrol cars.

"We concur that total transition to county-purchased police package cars might cost more than the present subsidy system," the latest report said.

The audit said marked patrol cars would enhance police visibility. Many Hawaii County police vehicles are now personally owned by the officers, mostly sport utility vehicles with a detachable blue-dome light on the roof. The department also has some county-owned SUVs.

The Honolulu Police Department, the largest force in the state with 2,000 officers, has a system that uses both subsidized and city-owned fleet vehicles.

Backers of the subsidy program, which dates to the 1930s on Oahu, say it offers several benefits. Officers who use their own vehicles can respond to an emergency more easily if they have their cars, radio and gear with them at home, instead of having to go to the station to pick up a police car.

Backers say the key advantage of a subsidy system is that it saves money because officers are responsible for buying, maintaining and repairing their own vehicles.


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