Fort Smith Police Chief asks for $750,000 in new equipment, units

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 300 views 

The Fort Smith Police Department (FSPD) has asked the city’s Board of Directors to consider approval of approximately $790,000 in unplanned expenditures that may help bridge the equipment gap in the department’s fleet.

According to a memo from Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark, the department would not require additional funding as monies would be pulled from budgeted salaries and other items that are expected to go unused in the 2017 budget year, which aligns with the calendar year. Approval would allow the purchase of nine fully equipped 2018 Chevrolet 2WD PPV Tahoes to replace nine existing vehicles. The estimated cost for each unit would be $64,342 ($579,078 altogether) and include the purchase of a Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) with related installation hardware, an L3 in-car camera system, and a Motorola two-way radio for each vehicle.

The patrol division has 37 marked and equipped vehicles in its fleet, not counting marked Sergeant (supervisor) vehicles or marked School Resource Officer vehicles. Eleven of the 37 are past 200,000 miles, while 26 are over 100,000 with many of those approaching 200,000, Clark said.

Through the end of August, the department spent $182,423 in maintenance costs for its fleet of vehicles. Extrapolating that number to the end of the year, the department is looking at an estimated vehicle maintenance expense of $273,634. In 2016 the department spent $221,672 and in 2015, $224,673, so 2017’s costs have jumped by over 21% during a two-year period.

“The removal of the nine highest mileage vehicles from the fleet should significantly reduce vehicle maintenance costs and provide more reliable vehicles to respond to calls for service from the public,” Clark said.

Newly promoted Lt. Thomas Milam, emphasizing the need, said recently “one of the vehicles actually died on the way to a call.” The call was “luckily canceled” shortly after being placed, Milam added.

HARLEYS, TASERS, AND TRAINING
For the remaining $200,000, the department is requesting the purchase of three new Harley Davidson motorcycles at an estimated cost of $20,500 each as well as communications equipment ($1,100), safety equipment and uniforms ($1,100) and vehicle operation training ($2,500) for each bike. The total expenditure would run $75,600.

Additionally the department is in need of “critical incident equipment” for a mobile field force, Clark said. The equipment would help address “potential or actual civil disturbances” and consist of a Damascus FX-1 riot suit and gloves, gas mask with holder, wooden baton, and Premier Crown riot helmet with face shield. The department recently spent $16,991 on enough equipment to outfit 15 officers. With the unexpended budget funds, Clark would like to add 25 more packages at a cost of $28,325.

Clark also asked for the Board to send his seven new lieutenants and seven recently promoted sergeants to Supervisor Leadership Institute Training sponsored by the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association (LEEDA). The 4.5-day program will cost $23,000 for tuition and travel expenses.

Finally, Clark hopes the Board will approve the purchase of 12 new TASERs to replace the 5- to 10-year-old models the department has, some of which have failed in training environments, added Milam. The cost for 12 units would be $30,000, or, alternatively, the Board could okay a five-year lease program that would replace all 100 of the department’s TASERs with cameras, warranties, and initial cartridges for a five-year payment plan totaling $218,003. The first year could be funded through the unexpended funds and subsequent years incorporated into the department’s budget.

The Board, which has had to manage a tight budget in the wake of an estimated $480 million consent decree for the next 10 years, has received criticism from some in the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the police officers’ union representatives in Fort Smith. The FOP recently joined with the firefighters union in an effort to recall some of the sitting city directors, starting with Director Mike Lorenz. The recall organizers have stated that part of their reasoning is the Board refuses “to properly fund public safety (and) to properly staff the police department.”

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