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Changes to the Little Rock Police Department's take-home vehicle policy will not be implemented immediately because of a shortage of officers and a spike in crime, according to Little Rock's city manager.

The new policy, outlined in a recent memo from City Manager Bruce Moore, will allow only officers who live within 25 miles of the geographic center of the city to drive their take-home vehicles home. If they live outside the 25-mile radius, officers assigned a take-home vehicle will be required to park the vehicle in a "secure location" overnight inside the radius, according to the memo.

Yet, more than half of the department's take-home vehicles would not be subject to the 25-mile requirement because of exceptions under the new policy, according to police documents provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette through the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Current department policy allows employees to drive assigned take-home vehicles to and from work, regardless of location.

There will be a three-year period to phase in the new policy, according to the memo. But Moore said the phase-in period will not begin until the department has addressed an uptick in violent crime and officer vacancies within the Police Department.

"I think it's a good policy going forward, I just need to delay implementation," he said.

Take-home vehicles are an incentive, Moore said, and he decided to delay implementation after considering the morale of the department. He also said he did not want to lose long-term officers.

"There were a lot of factors that came into play," he said.

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The department reported 528 sworn officers and 65 vacancies as of March 31. Department officials this year have moved to streamline the hiring process and boost recruitment efforts to fill the open positions.

In Little Rock, city leaders and police have expressed concern about an uptick in violent crime that began last fall and has continued into 2017. Preliminary police data show a 21 percent increase in violent crimes from Jan. 1 to May 1, compared with the same time last year.

Current department policy states that employees are assigned take-home vehicles if "the nature of the assignment mandate their return to duty during off-duty hours for investigation or other critical police responses."

The department provides upkeep on the vehicles, and employees do not pay for the vehicle's gasoline if they use one of the city's stations.

The changes to the take-home policy come after Moore's office began a review of the policy last fall, after the Arkansas Times reported on the number of take-home vehicles driven out of town and the distances they traveled.

At that time, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said the policy review would focus on whether police assigned to the vehicles live too far away to respond in a timely manner to off-duty responsibilities.

As of May 2, at least 65 percent of the department's 219 take-home vehicles travel outside of Little Rock, according to police documents.

While the majority of take-home vehicles travel within a 25-mile radius of Little Rock, some vehicles travel dozens of miles away to towns such as Floyd, Fountain Lake, Beebe, Vilonia, Greenbrier and Malvern, according to the department records.

Exceptions to the new policy will allow more than half of the department's take-home vehicles to travel outside the 25-mile radius from Little Rock, records show. The exceptions would apply to sworn officers assigned to SWAT, Major Crimes Division, Special Investigations Division and the motorcycle unit.

The memo said the center of the city is approximately located at Boyle Park Road and West 32nd Street.

But with some sworn officers living dozens of miles away, City Director Ken Richardson questioned the ability of some to respond in a timely manner to off-duty emergencies.

Buckner said the assignment of take-home vehicles is an operational decision made by the police chief, and the officers with those vehicles are deserving based on their job responsibilities.

"We are comfortable with who has a car in our agency," Buckner said.

Buckner said the department should not be focused on the take-home policy while violent crime continues to rise and innocent people are being killed.

Homicides and the number of people hurt by gunfire are both up in Little Rock so far this year. The violence has been accented recently by the killing of a day care center owner by a stray bullet, and by the fatal shooting of a man whose vehicle was stolen during a carjacking. No one has been arrested in either slaying.

Police believe both of those killings were random, said Lt. Steve McClanahan, a Police Department spokesman.

According to the city memo, most law enforcement agencies in central Arkansas offer take-home vehicles. In the memo, Moore said abandoning the practice would hurt recruiting and impede officers' abilities to do their jobs.

In completing the review, Moore said he spent a lot of time with the Police Department's command staff and looked at practices in other similar-sized cities.

The memo cited a study in Tacoma, Wash., that found the operating costs for assigned vehicles were 30 percent lower than pooled vehicles. The study also concluded that using pooled vehicles took more time. It took 28 to 40 minutes per day for officials to load, unload and check out pooled vehicles -- time that took away from their law enforcement duties, according to the memo.

While there are cost benefits to assigned vehicles, "some of the cost benefits can be mitigated if the car is being driven long distances every day to and from work," according to the memo.

It appears that the benefit "may start to lessen" between 25 and 30 miles, according to the memo.

Richardson said he wished the memo had specified how much money the Little Rock department spends on take-home vehicles each year.

"One would assume it has some sort of impact," he said.

He also raised concerns that Little Rock taxpayers essentially subsidize the public safety of outlying communities when marked take-home vehicles are taken outside the city.

Metro on 05/15/2017

Print Headline: LR putting off take-home car shift for police; Unfilled jobs, crime spike drive delay of 25-mile limit

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