The Kansas City Police Department’s take-home vehicle program lacks basic cost information and could improve its efficiency and effectiveness, the city auditor said Wednesday.
The auditor’s report calculated that police take-home vehicles were driven 2.5 million miles for commuting and personal use during a recent 12-month period, at a cost of $1.5 million. The police disputed that estimate.
“Faced with limited resources, the Police Department has to balance competing demands and look for savings opportunities,” city auditor Doug Jones told the City Council’s Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee. The auditor offered numerous recommendations to improve the take-home vehicle program.
Police agreed they could provide better data on officers’ take-home vehicle use but argued the overall practice is positive for the community and public safety.
“The majority of literature says take-home vehicles is a benefit, not a detriment, and every take-home vehicle that we have must be approved by the chief with justification,” said Maj. Karl Oakman, the liaison from the Police Department to the city.
Although the auditor said many of the take-home cars are not marked as police cars, which is needed for community visibility, Oakman argued they are blue Crown Victorias that are readily recognizable as police cars and having them as take-home vehicles increases their availability in emergencies.
The report found that as of September 2015, the department had 341 take-home vehicles out of a total of 922 vehicles. The police passenger fleet devoted to take-home vehicles grew from 37 percent of the fleet to 44 percent of the fleet between 2011 and 2015.
The auditor calculated that 55 percent of miles driven in the 12 months ending May 31, 2015, were for commuting or personal use, at a cost of $1.5 million.
But that was using the IRS standard mileage reimbursement rate of 57 cents per mile. Police argued that the IRS measure applies to personal vehicles and a more appropriate measure would be 18 cents per mile, at an annual cost of about $450,000.
Regardless of who is right, Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said it makes sense for police to start better tracking the overall costs, especially how much time the cars are used for personal purposes.
Among key recommendations:
▪ Police at the very least should know the cost of the program and should evaluate ways to reduce costs and improve effectiveness.
▪ The chief of police should determine annually how frequently each employee who has a take-home car actually uses it for after-hours emergencies and whether that take-home car is truly necessary.
▪ The chief should evaluate the cost and propriety of using department vehicles for off-duty employment. The report noted that at least one city, Seattle, prohibits this use of take-home vehicles.
▪ The department should increase the use of marked vehicles and police license plates for take-home vehicles. Only 13 percent of the take-home vehicles are marked and a fourth of the vehicles don’t have Police Department license plates, so that doesn’t help with police visibility in neighborhoods.
▪ The chief should also evaluate whether to prohibit transporting non-employees in these vehicles for non-business purposes. Oklahoma City prohibits family members from riding in take-home vehicles, but Kansas City officers said they have had no liability related to family members and such a policy would make the take-home vehicles less effective, not more.