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Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Local law enforcement getting pinched

Rising fuel prices impact budgets

By Margie Wuebker

Mercer County Sheriff Deputy Jerry Wolford takes off his helmet before refueling. . .

Area motorists are not the only ones feeling the pinch at the gas pump. Law enforcement agencies share the pain in the wake of soaring prices.
Those costs have officials taking a close look at routine patrols and cheaper modes of transportation like fuel-efficient cruisers, motorcycles and even bicycles.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey winces at the mention of costs associated with regular unleaded gas, which is selling over $4 per gallon throughout the Grand Lake area. Even though he purchases fuel through the Mercer County Engineer's Office at a lower bulk rate, the numbers are wreaking havoc on his budget.
The office spent $38,666 for fuel during the first five months of the year as compared to $26,070 for the same time period in 2007. Grey estimated fuel costs at a little over $3 a gallon for budgeting purposes because the engineer's office buys in volume resulting in lower pump prices. However, the cost per tanker load has been going up with each new delivery and he expects to see a trickle-down effect.
"We took a look at fuel usage and found deputies averaged 130 gallons a month," he said. "We're trying to cut that to 100 gallons."
Grey has implemented stationary patrols meaning each cruiser with the exception of the one transporting the K9 unit, is shut off four hours per eight-hour shift. Deputies use the time to complete paperwork on station or inside their mobile office. They also run radar surveillance.
"We have noticed a decrease in traffic volume," he added. "And motorists seem to be driving slower to save gas."
Three deputies are assigned to road patrol each shift covering the north, central and south districts. However, the new plan calls for the supervisor to remain on station, unless needed, drafting policies and procedures to be implemented upon completion of the new jail. Additionally, deputies "double up" on slow nights to prevent sending out two cruisers.
The two motorcycles in the 26-vehicle fleet are being used for more than delivering court paperwork. Deputies now use them on patrol because they tend to be more fuel efficient than cruisers averaging 17.8 miles per gallon.
"We still need a cruiser in the event of an arrest," he admits with a chuckle. "It's not like you can give the person a helmet and let him crawl up behind the driver."
Sheriff's office personnel log considerable miles each year transporting prisoners to and from prison, juvenile detention facilities and other residential facilities like the WORTH Center in Lima. In May alone, the 35 transports totaled nearly 4,000 miles.
"We try to coordinate trips and hopefully take more than one prisoner," Grey said. "We certainly don't want to overload a cruiser with people convicted of violent crimes."
Fewer inmates are taken from the Mercer County Jail to other county jails these days as Grey recently implemented "creative balancing" in an effort to cut costs. The jail exceeded its 15-bed capacity each day during April with high occupancy levels continuing into May and June. Female prisoners are again being held locally as space permits.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon also cut the number of transports to correctional facilities and instituted selective patrolling in problem areas in the interest of conserving fuel. His deputies also double up sharing a cruiser during slow periods.
Fortunately, many festivals take place at the Auglaize County Fairgrounds meaning sheriff's office personnel can patrol on foot cutting gas usage to a minimum.
"It has not been easy to estimate fuel costs for budgeting purposes," he said. "The cost keeps going up without any sign of dropping on the horizon."
Celina Police Chief Dave Slusser is looking at more fuel-efficient cruisers with a new model expected to join the fleet next year. With the return of warm weather residents can expect to see bicycle patrols with officers carrying portable radar units.
Troopers from the Wapakoneta post of the Ohio Highway Patrol are conscientious customers, according to Lt. Scott Carrico. They typically fill up cruisers at designated bulk sites but head to the cheapest station when the need arises.
Carrico added the OSP is looking to cut energy costs district wide by 5 percent. Since 81 percent of overall energy costs involve gasoline that translates into roughly 2 gallons per officer.
"I encourage stationery patrols especially at high crash areas," he said. "Studies show idling uses 64 percent fuel and the presence of a marked cruiser tends to slow traffic."
Motorists can expect to see an OSP plane in the air from time to time with spotters radioing information regarding speeders to stationery patrols on the ground.
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