By Michael Norton
State House News Service
---- — BOSTON — Patrick administration officials are requesting millions of dollars to replace high-mileage State Police vehicles, but a House chairman who oversees state borrowing programs believes the administration should also examine efficiency measures to better control costs.
Testifying before the House Bonding Committee, state Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral said the State Police are requesting $10.4 million this fiscal year to continue a program under which almost 4,500 vehicles have been replaced over the last 12 years, including 237 in fiscal 2012 and 259 in fiscal 2013.
“This has had a tremendous impact on officer safety and has allowed us to provide a much safer working environment for troopers while creating a far more efficient operation for the department,” said Cabral, the former sheriff of Suffolk County.
With an additional $10.4 million, the State Police plan to purchase 372 vehicles while retiring older vehicles. Officials told lawmakers that State Police vehicles are considered for retirement after reaching 100,000 miles and are usually retired before hitting 150,000 miles, or after about five years of usage.
Under questioning from committee chairman Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, who is not related to Secretary Cabral, the secretary and her aides were not able to specify the amount spent over the past two years on vehicle replacement or the borrowing terms for the replacement purchases.
Chairman Cabral surfaced other considerations, saying he was concerned about State Police vehicles left idling and officers taking vehicles to their homes after finishing their shifts. Asking for policies to be revisited, he said local police drive their own vehicles to details and don’t take police vehicles home.
“I think we’ve got to find ways to be more efficient,” Rep. Cabral said, suggesting that State Police vehicles should be left for officers coming on duty when other officers are finishing their shifts.
Rep. Cabral said he understands the importance of public safety, but added that “we all have to live within our own means.” He said, “Every time I brought these issues up it sort of falls on deaf ears.”
An aide to the secretary estimated $50 million was spent on vehicles over the past seven years and Secretary Cabral said efforts are underway to save valuable vehicle components before vehicles are surplused.
Secretary Cabral said she understood that idling vehicles use gas and that prolonged idling is “environmentally undesirable,” but said vehicles that are on to power police lights have a deterrent effect and officers in powered vehicles are able to take off instantly if a crime does occur.
“I’m not sure that they’re idling just for the sake of idling,” she said.
Rep. Todd Smola, R-Palmer, praised the vehicle replacement program.
“Replacement is one of the smartest things we do,” he said.
The State Police over five years have also replaced three helicopters and are requesting $6.9 million to purchase one more for the last phase of a replacement program. Secretary Cabral said the last chopper will be ordered this fiscal year, with plans calling for vendors to produce it and install specialty equipment over the next two fiscal years.