Providence mulling plan to let cops who live in city take work cars home

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence City Council is considering a proposal that would allow police officers who live in the city to take their vehicles home after work, but Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements is urging city leaders to think long and hard about how such a program would be paid for in the future.

In a City Council Finance Committee meeting last week, Clements said there would be “significant benefits” to establishing the program, but said he hopes the city wouldn’t pay for it using funds meant to replenish a fleet of police cars that is in “deplorable condition.”

“This program has merit, no question,” Clements said. “The caution I’d give is, is it sustainable going forward?”

A discussion about allowing cops who reside in Providence to take their vehicles home first came up during budget negotiations with the City Council earlier this year. Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, who represents Ward 5, asked for a study on whether the program would be feasible.

In a fiscal note provided to the council last week, internal auditor Matt Clarkin explained that the program could cost the city between $198,000 and $2.5 million, depending on the number of officers allowed to take their vehicles home. Clarkin projected that each car costs $33,000.

As of June 1, 66 of the city’s 388 sworn police personnel reported living in Providence. That number is expected to grow by 18 when the current police academy graduates later this year. After removing detectives and lieutenants from the equation, Clarkin said it would cost $2.5 million to allow 76 officers to take their cars home.

If the department only allowed the six sergeants who live in the city to take cars home, the cost would be $198,000, Clarkin found.  If any city cop who lives in Providence and has five years on the job were allowed to take their cars home, the cost would be $1.6 million.

Ryan said having police cars parked in front of neighborhood homes could function as a “crime deterrent” and be a tool for strong police and community relations. She suggested there could be a financial benefit to city because it would take some police cars out of the current 24-hour rotation, reducing wear and tear.

“I support a program to allow Providence Police who live in the city to take their vehicles home for numerous reasons, and it’s been successful in other cities across the country,” Ryan said. “By and large, officers want to take their cars home, and launching this program for police who are Providence residents creates a great incentive for them to live in the city in which they serve.”

Ryan has suggested the city launch a pilot program before fully implementing the proposal, but the Finance Committee took no action last week.

Reached Monday, police union President Sgt. Robert Boehm said he would like to “know more as far as who gets them, cost, department policy, liability before I can say where we could take a position.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan