WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A big change to a longstanding police department policy starts later this month. West Palm Beach police officers who live outside city limits won’t be able to take patrol vehicles home.
The current policy allows patrol officers who live within 30 miles of the city to take home vehicles at the end of their shift. In 2013 the city implemented a change that limited it to officers within 30 miles.
“It's not a great thing that we have to do this,” explained City Administrator Jeff Green. He says the policy change boils down to money. "It's basically a temporary fix for the last couple years have because of our budget shortfall."
"In the short term we're going to require the officers not take vehicles home with them," Green said. "At the end of their shift they are going to continue to be used in patrol."
According to Green many of the city's aging police units are over 100-thousand miles, and need to be taken out of service. He says the no take home policy will help make that happen. But, in this north end neighborhood, residents worry how the policy change could impact their safety.
"If there's a police car in the neighborhood you feel a little safer to see a police car," said Joann Cline who lives in Pinewood. "At least you know there's a police officer living in your neighborhood."
Officers who live inside West Palm Beach city limits will still be able to take their cars home. But officers living outside the city will have to load and unload their patrol cruisers at the start and finish of their day. Green says that could impact response times during shift change.
"We don't anticipate a large problem, but during the shift, when officers are actually cleaning out their vehicles it may have a slight impact on operations," Green detailed. "We hope to keep that to a minimum."
Former Boca Raton Police Chief Andrew Scott believes the policy change could make the department less attractive to new recruits.
"It's a perk that is very much valued by police officers and very much used as a recruitment tool to attract officers to come to a particular agency," said Scott.
Boca Raton and Delray Beach Police Officers can take their patrol cars if they live in Palm Beach County, even in Broward County.
Scott thinks the no take home policy could encourage current officers to scope out other departments that still have that perk. Before stepping down in 2014, West Palm Beach Police Chief Vince Demasi said competition from nearby departments was already hindering recruitment.
"It is very competitive. It’s competitive from the sense of you will have an applicant apply for multiple law enforcement agencies," said Scott.
The city says the new policy starts December 21 and is just temporary. The city plans to have 88 new police fleet vehicles on the street by October 2016 and they could return to the old take home rules at that time.