Complaints that Buffalo police cars are showing their age and that sometimes not enough are ready to go at shift changes because of repairs will be addressed in city budget discussions.
And there is the possibility that some new ones will be purchased, according to Common Council President Richard A. Fontana.
The Buffalo Police Department has a fleet of about 200 marked patrol cars, and no new vehicles have been added since 2010, which goes against a standard national practice in law enforcement to replace one-third of the fleet annually so that patrol cars are never more than three years old.
“We have been lean on purchases of police vehicles in the last few years,” Fontana said.
Tight fiscal conditions have been cited for the slowdown in buying new police cars. Mayor Byron W. Brown’s proposed budget, released Wednesday, includes $1 million for 25 to 30 new patrol cars.
Some members of the Police Department do not think that’s enough. Others have expressed concerns to Fontana that many of the current Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars have more than 100,000 miles.
“In budget deliberations, I’m going to be taking a close look at what is being proposed. We’re lucky the Crown Victorias are dependable, but once a patrol car starts to get near the 150,000-mile mark, it is a lot different than a civilian vehicle. Patrol cars are on all the time,” Fontana said.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said he hopes to rotate new police vehicles into the fleet at the start of the new budget year, July 1.
“We’re in the process of putting together a purchase of new vehicles, and we may get some before the new fiscal year,” he said.
Police who have voiced concern say that the police repair garage on Seneca Street is often packed with cars awaiting repairs and that at the start of each shift, officers will alert the police dispatcher that they are awaiting an available patrol car.
Some of that, though, is because officers prefer a certain patrol car and are waiting for it to return to the district headquarters. But Fontana says there is no question the fleet needs to be updated. In the past, he said, the Brown administration faithfully replaced a third of the patrol cars each year.
“We achieved that for many years, and you have to commend the mayor for that,” Fontana said, adding that he understands public funds are limited. “Even if it was a quarter of the fleet replaced each year, that would be OK. You can’t go without police cars, and if you do not do a turnover, then you have to buy a whole bunch at once. It is either pay now or pay later.”
He credited mechanics at the police garage for their diligence in keeping the fleet road worthy.
As for what the Buffalo patrol car of the future will be, that depends on upcoming budget discussions.
Ford no longer makes the Crown Victoria and has switched to the Taurus as its patrol vehicle, while Chevrolet manufactures a Caprice patrol vehicle, and Dodge has a Charger police car.