Denver Police Commanders, driving city take home cars, have been filling their tanks with city gas while on vacation and putting tens of thousands of miles on their city cars when they are off work, costing taxpayers.
“We do get called on vacation, we do need to be available and we do need to respond with that car which is a tool of our job,” said Denver Police Department spokesman Lt. Matt Murray, in response to the CBS4 findings.
Take home cars, that can be used for commuting and unlimited personal use, are provided to officers and commanders who may be called out from home to respond to emergencies. They are not supposed to be provided as a perk or benefit of the job.
DPD refused to reveal precisely how many of its cars are unmarked, take home cars and are used for commuting. Police insiders say the number is around 200 and many are driven by commanders in non- patrol jobs.
“The fact is we need those cars and that equipment to take care of the needs of citizens in an emergency,” said Lt. Murray.
Department records obtained by CBS4 call into question those emergency response claims.
Responding to a Colorado Open Records Act Request, the department provided records showing that Lt. Vince Porter, an administrative aide, has a take home car. He put about 14,000 miles on his car in 2010.
The department says it has no records showing Porter was ever called out for an afterhours emergency in 2010 or 2011.
Then there’s Lt. Pete Conner, who the department also lists as having a take home car. He put about 11,000 miles on his car last year according to department records.
The department says that in all of 2010, Conner had zero emergency call outs from home, and in 2011, he was called out once, for three hours.
CBS4 requested afterhours call out records for 2010 and 2011 for 13 Lieutenants in primarily administrative roles, who the department says are assigned take home cars.
For six of the command officers, the department could provide no evidence the lieutenants ever had to respond from home for either 2010 or 2011.
According to Mary Dulacki, records coordinator for the Department of Safety, “The report I provided to you was derived from a query including all of the officers you named. The officers who are not reflected in the report did not have any call-out codes entered during the time period you requested.”
Dulacki said it’s still possible the officers may have been called out, but she said the department could not find any records to support that.
The records do show that many commanders with take home cars, who do not have patrol assignments, come in repeatedly while on vacation to fuel their cars with city gas and put a large amount of miles on their city cars when they are off work, on vacation time.
Patrol Division Chief David Quinones took vacation time from Nov. 24 through Nov. 29, 2010. Fuel records show he came in and filled his tank while he was off work, on Nov. 28. He put about 200 miles on his department vehicle over the Thanksgiving holiday.
In 2011, during a three day vacation from July 21 through the 23, he came in and fueled up on his first day off, July 21, and put about 50 miles a day on his city car.
“He needs to be available, he can’t predict when something will happen, so if he is on vacation he needs to be able to respond with that car,” said Lt. Murray, “and he needs that car to be gassed and needs it to be available.”
Quinones did not respond to a CBS4 request for information on why he filled up while on vacations or where he traveled in his department car while he was off work.
Fuel records show Division Chief Mary Beth Klee, who oversees the Special Operations Division, was on vacation from July 20 through August 1. Klee stopped by on Wednesday, July 27, and fueled her department car mid-vacation. Klee also did not respond to a CBS4 request seeking an explanation.
Tracie Keesee, the Division Chief overseeing Research and Technology, was off work from August 13 through August 17, 2010. Mileage records show that her unmarked take home car logged 389 miles while she was taking vacation time. Keesee did not respond to an email request for information about how she racked up those miles during her vacation.
While the department insists high ranking commanders need to drive these cars, even on vacation, to be prepared for emergencies, records indicate many commanders with take home cars do not. Fuel and mileage logs suggest numerous command officers park their vehicles while on vacation, and do not log any miles or fill up on gas when they are taking time off.
The miles don’t come cheap either. While the Denver Police Department said it did not have any per mile cost estimates for its cars, the American Automobile Association says keeping these kinds of cars on the road can cost about 50 cents per mile when you figure in fuel, maintenance and depreciation costs.
The federal government estimates the average American drives about 13,000 miles a year. But some of the unmarked take home cars, driven by high ranking commanders who are in non-patrol roles, are logging far more than that.
A Deputy Chief of Administration put 23,731 miles on his car in 2010. The Division Chief in charge of research and training logged 23,313 miles in 2010.
At the triple AAA estimate of 50 cents per mile, those two cars alone cost taxpayers around $25, 000 to keep on the road for two years.
Earlier this week, the department of safety went to City Council saying it needed an additional $7 million added to its 2011 budget. Acting budget director Brendan Hanlon told city council members part of the problem was car costs.
“And a large piece of this is fuel rates and vehicle repair costs…”, said Hanlon.
According to the Mayor’s Office, about $580,000 of that request is due to increased fuel costs for Denver police vehicles and another $400,000 is due to increased vehicle repairs due to the age of the fleet.
“Is there any fat here?” Lt. Murray was asked. “It depends on what response the city wants to have,” replied Murray.
He acknowledged keeping take home cars on the road is expensive, but not as pricey as hiring more cops.
“We know it’s cheaper to have a car regardless of how it’s used than to staff the position with two people. It’s a system we choose that saves money in the end,” said Murray.