New Police Cars Collect Dust As Older Ones Break Down
Officials have no explanation as to why two new, ready-to-go police cars are tucked away in the woods while old vehicles in service are falling apart.
If you're up early, you might spot Ridgewood police officers holding jumper cables to the batteries of their patrol cars. Some break down midway through shifts.
Meanwhile, nestled in the woods on the Ridgewood-Glen Rock border, two brand new Crown Victorias have been collecting dust for well over a month.
Village officials have not offered an explanation as to why two of five new vehicles ordered have not yet replaced older, sometimes broken down vehicles.
"When you're jumpstarting cars and responding to emergency calls, and we have two cars heading out with absolutely nothing," one officer said, "it becomes an officer and public safety issue."
Two of the village's patrol cars have been stripped of their radar detectors, computers and cameras. The vehicles, still out on the road, are equipped with little more than a radio and a medical bag, officers said.
Those radios, computers and radar detectors sit unused at 432 Grove Street, a wooded property that houses Grassey's Equipment Co., where two of the five new vehicles are located. The remaining three vehicles purchased have not been fully outfitted yet, sources said.
"We are told all five cars have to roll out of the lot at the same time," another officer told Patch on the condition of anonymity. "We haven't been told why – the two on Grove [Street] are ready now and these clunkers are in terrible condition."
Mayor Keith Killion told Patch it was an issue for management, and referred comment to Village Manager Ken Gabbert. Gabbert declined to comment.
Police Chief John Ward said all five vehicles should be rolled out shortly.
"I don't have a comment on the matter except that we expect to have the cars on the road next week barring any complications with equipment," the chief said on Tuesday.
"None of the police officers have said anything to me about that," Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh said. "As far as I know, unless they put it in writing to the Village Manager to get back to us, the governing body, it's hearsay."
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Though many officers privately grumble, they've made no official complaints.
Local PBA 20 has not filed any grievances related to public safety being compromised by shoddy vehicles. Its president declined comment on the issue.
"If there was a public safety issue, I'm sure Chief Ward would let us know," said Councilman Paul Aronsohn. He referred further questions to Ward.
Most officers who spoke with Patch say the breakdowns in mid-shift aren't especially common – occurring a few times per month at most – but they say the village’s failure to phase in new vehicles on a regular basis has caught up with the department.
Like most other village departments, the police haven’t seen a replenishment of its fleet in years.
Most of the village's more than 20 patrol cars, officers say, have 80,000 or more miles on them. Many push well over 100,000 miles and remain idling throughout the day, as officers fear they won't restart if the engine is shut down. Two were lost in Hurricane Irene flood waters, and many are repeat customers at the municipal garage.
The five new vehicles, all rear-wheel drive Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors, were purchased on state contract bids (about $33,000 each) with an estimated $15,000 in equipment needed for each vehicle. Dubbed “safari vehicles,” by officers, their bodies feature a swirl of black paint that juts from an otherwise largely white body and a fairly small police decal.
Meeting minutes from January state Gabbert has planned to unveil them all at once, though no rationale was provided. Multiple sources said Gabbert wanted a “new image” for the department and felt the police did not properly maintain their vehicles, prompting a redesign of the black-and-whites.
Later in the spring there were purchase order snafus which further delayed the process, sources said.
Even when the five new vehicles are unveiled, the overall condition of the village fleet will remain poor, officers said.
"It helps," one officer said. "But with the age and mileage of these cars, we're going to need at least double that to be at acceptable levels."