Exeter Police use grant to pay for cars

Paul Myers

Police department to use $100,000 COPS grant to complete purchase of six replacement vehicles

EXETER – Exeter police are rolling on some new wheels after they cashed in their $100,000 COPS grant to payoff their six new police cars.

At last week’s Oct. 13 Exeter City Council meeting, the council’s four members unanimously approved to adopt the Citizen’s Option for Public Safety grant. The Exeter Police Department is eligible to receive this grant on an annual basis through AB 3229 passed in 1996.

The money can be used for a variety of things as long as they are related to public safety. Exeter’s council and police department agreed the best use of the grant would be to complete the purchase of six new police cars to replace cars that had high mileage and then use whatever is left over to help fund 25% of an officer’s salary.

According to an Exeter staff report the council authorized the purchase of these six vehicles at a July 10, 2018 meeting with the expectation that the 2020-2021 fiscal year—the current fiscal year—COPS grant would be he final payment.

“This is essentially the third portion of a spending plan that’s started to replace six vehicles that were desperately needed,” Exeter chief of police John Hall said.

Hall has been advocating for a replacement fund for police vehicles since he was brought on as chief. And he has been a large proponent of using Measure P dollars, the one percent local revenue measure passes in November, to establish a fleet replacement fund.

“We just don’t have the funding currently to replace vehicles on a regular basis,” Hall said.

Exeter city manager Adam Ennis said it has been a goal of his to get the budget to a place where they can replace vehicles on a regular fiscal routine.

“We’re trying to get the budget worked out to replace two vehicles a year. That would put them on a good cycle to get them replaced. Obviously budget concerns out of the general fund are reasons for it. We’re stretching that fund fairly thin trying to cover expenses. So that will be something we are looking at for future budgets,” Ennis said.

At the end of the spring Hall told the council that one car had almost 230,000 miles on it. He said he had “never seen a vehicle with that high of mileage in police service.”

While the COPS grant helps bring new cars to the police garage, Hall has spelled out other department needs over the summer. At the council’s May 19 meeting Hall said because of budget shortfalls over the last three years, the Exeter Police Department has chosen to forego improvements on the operations side of the ledger. Fortunately, that has led to a fully staffed department. Unfortunately, if the department was asked to trim their budget, they would have to let go of officers.

According to Hall’s presentation to council, the traditional budget split between operational equipment and personnel is 25% to 75% respectively. But with deferred maintenance and replacement, paired with more staff, the current balance has been 83.2% to 16.8% personnel to operational costs.

“When you look at what is allocated to the operation side, in order to make any type of significant savings you have to look at the personnel side,” Hall said.

In order to keep a balanced budget over the last six years Hall said the department has kept building maintenance at a six year low, and provided examples. During the presentation the council reviewed photos of several parts of the building where the wooden façade is rotting. Hall added that the inside flooring is in bad shape after being installed 20 years ago, mold is growing outside some of the walls and HVAC unit has been under continuous repair and nearing replacement.

The department has downsized their K-9 teams from three to two and are relying on donations to help balance the account. And the importance of a K-9 unit cannot be undervalued.

“You would be amazed at the level of deterrence that a K-9 provides over an officer,” Hall said.

He added that he has seen suspects openly defy several officers. But when they deploy a K-9 officer they become compliant much faster.

“They don’t want to argue with the dog,” Hall said.

A point of emphasis Hall made was the need for training. Exeter officers have to meet the minimum level of training required by the state, but the department is charged with accommodating training schedules and cost. Outside of just meeting state mandates, Hall said that not keeping up on training is a major risk.

“If you look at lawsuits, one of the key claim is failure to train…and the only thing that is going to make it right is a lot of money,” Hall said. “But also, what caliber officer do you want responding to your call for help…do you want an ‘eh, he’s alright’ or do you want someone who’s trained far beyond minimum standards.”

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