In August, Metro Detroit business leaders presented city leaders with a fleet of new police cruisers and ambulances during a parade down Woodward Avenue to Hart Plaza. (Clarence Tabb, Jr. / The Detroit News)
Detroit — The deployment of a privately funded fleet of police cruisers and ambulances is nearing completion — welcome news for first responders who are used to driving older, often run-down vehicles.
The Detroit Police Department has put 130 of 144 new police cars into service, at least 100 of which were given to the city through an $8 million donation in the spring.
The money also covered the cost of 23 new EMS rigs that were provided through a partnership of businesses, including the Penske Corp., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Quicken Loans Inc. as well as General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.
Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said each precinct has 10 to 12 of the new cars. Some precincts have been operating with newer 2011 vehicles, while the oldest cars in the fleet date back to 2000.
Those vehicles, he added, have racked up hundreds of thousands of miles, running 24 hours a day for more than a decade.
“It has such a huge impact on the way officers are able to do their jobs,” Woody said. “The new vehicles are a great tool and a great asset for us to get places without breaking down. The vehicles have paid dividends in that aspect alone.”
The remaining cars are set to be turned over to the department in the coming months. About 80 percent of the new cars on the road are outfitted with audio and video equipment, which is being phased in, he said.
The audio and video capabilities are a critical requirement as the department continues to work under federal oversight.
“We follow the rules and do what we can,” Woody said, citing the consent decrees. “We do need to get those vehicles on the street. We can’t sit around and wait for the equipment.”
The importance of proper equipment was underscored in the high-profile January traffic stop of Detroit City Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr.
The newly elected councilman reportedly was caught with marijuana and open intoxicants in his car, but was released with a traffic citation. The stop sparked two separate investigations, but the dash cam in one of the department’s older models was not functioning.
It’s a common problem: Officers often find themselves assigned to squad cars with equipment that doesn’t work. The issue is being addressed, in part because it’s a requirement by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has governed the Police Department since 2003, when the city entered into two consent decrees after it was faced with civil rights lawsuits alleging officers were subjecting people to excessive force, false arrests and illegal detentions.
The department is in full compliance with the conditions of the detention portion of the decrees, and 93 percent compliant overall.
Mark Diaz, president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan, says the department has gone above and beyond to comply with the decrees.
“The department will send a car with a camera before one that doesn’t have a camera,” he said. “But from my position as a police officer and president of the association, we have an oath. It’s to uphold the law and protect the citizens of the city of Detroit. If that means taking a car without a camera, so be it.”
Despite some logistical hang-ups, Woody said the department is on track to have all of its new cars fully operational by summertime.
Before being put into service, each new vehicle must go through an inspection and other preparations, including assigned license plates and keys before the department assesses where the cars are needed.
When the new fleet was first announced, some were concerned the cars would be concentrated downtown and in Midtown, but they are regularly spotted in all city neighborhoods.
“We try and allocate the vehicles fairly and equitably across the city,” Woody said. “Right now, it’s just a very daunting task getting them all out there quickly. It does take time.”
The latest donations bring the city’s Active and Safe Detroit Campaign to $15 million. The three-year, $50 million initiative was established by business leaders, nonprofits and members of government to raise funds for public safety equipment, recreation centers and crime prevention.
The squad cars include Dodge Chargers, Ford Taurus Police Interceptors and Chevrolet Caprices, each costing between $45,000 and $50,000. The ambulances each cost $160,000.