Police vehicle take-home plan questioned

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany City Commission questioned a police take-home vehicle policy suggested by Chief John Proctor during his budget presentation Tuesday morning, and is apparently hesitant to give it the OK without strong controls and safeguards to prevent abuse.

Proctor said he would like the commission to consider expanding a policy to allow all police officers to take home their assigned duty vehicle so long as it's within a 25-mile radius of the city limits.

But, beginning with Mayor Willie Adams, several on the commission expressed concern about monitoring how the cars are used to make sure they aren't misused.

Adams questioned Proctor and Fire Chief James Carswell, who administers the city's automatic vehicle location program, or AVL, to determine if the program will be used to keep track of the vehicles.

"For me to consider approving any kind of vehicle take-home policy, it's going to be very important to have the AVL in place so that we know where each vehicle is located," Adams said. "To me, the two go hand-in-hand."

The AVL system is essentially a beefed-up version of popular global positioning systems that can be monitored by the department heads for the departments in which the system is installed. Currently, the hardware is installed in all of the police and fire vehicles, as well as some Public Works vehicles.

"It'll tell you where a vehicle is at, how fast it's going, if it's on an emergency call and how long it's been where it's at," Carswell told the commission.

Commissioner Tommie Postell expressed concern over taxpayer-funded property being taken out of the county during off-duty hours and was surprised to learn that some public safety officials are taking their cars home on a limited basis right now.

"They shouldn't be taking their cars home now. We had too many incidents in the past where they took their cars home and drove them everywhere, the mall, out-of-the county, Tallahassee even," Postell said. "Right now, I don't see using taxpayers' equipment for police to go to places like Tifton ... We've done tested that water and we drowned."

Commissioner Bob Langstaff said he bought Proctor's explanation that the policy could improve response time and said he believes having cops driving vehicles up to the mall and grocery store is an added security bonus for area residents. But he added that he believes the cars should stay within the city limits.

Commissioner Christopher Pike's statements mirrored Langstaff's but went one step further, saying the cars should stay within Dougherty County.

Proctor maintains that the program will help improve response time and community safety by improving police visibility.

But some commissioners say they don't want city and taxpayer-funded assets being kept out of the county.

In the end, Proctor was tasked with developing essentially a cost-benefit analysis for the program and bringing it back before the board for consideration.

Proctor told the commission he'd like to have the vehicle take-home program started under the next fiscal-year budget, which starts July 1.