MERCER COUNTY COG resumes cruiser repairs

New policies enacted by the police department are designed to reduce damage to cruisers.
FARRELL, Pa. -- The Mercer County Regional Council of Governments resumed handling the maintenance and repair of Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department vehicles today.
COG offered the service of its vehicle mechanic to Southwest Regional back in January in an effort to help the police department control escalating cruiser maintenance costs.
However, COG abruptly stopped the service in early August after its mechanic became inundated with damaged Southwest vehicles, said James DeCapua.
DeCapua, who is also chairman of the Southwest Police Commission, said the service wouldn't be restored until the police department enacted new policies designed to better control speeding, off-road driving and other uses of police vehicles in an effort to reduce the number of impact damage.
Police Chief Joseph Timko presented a series of policy revisions to the commission, which approved them Tuesday, prompting DeCapua to lift the ban on repairing police vehicles.
Areas of concern: Timko's policies fell into three areas: investigation of reportable accidents involving cruisers, safe response to emergency calls and more stringent officer inspections of their own cruisers at the beginning and end of each shift.
Of particular note is a basic ban on off-street driving. Officers will have to have a very good reason for leaving the roadway in pursuit of a suspect, Timko said, adding that type of driving should be limited to extreme emergencies.
DeCapua said the COG mechanic had been barraged with bent tire rims, front-end alignments, bent axles and collision damage in addition to the normal oil changes and repairs of failed parts.
Replacing cars: The department is considering replacing about half of its nine-car fleet through a lease-purchase arrangement.
Timko will make a formal proposal to the commission in November but said Tuesday that the department could lease four new Ford Crown Victorias at a cost not much greater than is spent on a new car each year.
The commission normally spends more than $20,000 a year for one new vehicle but could lease four Crown Victorias for $28,467 a year for three years, Timko said.
At the end of that time, the department can buy the vehicles at $1 each and then use them as trade-ins on new leased vehicles, he said.
DeCapua said COG may have the money available to cover at least one year's lease.
The agency has secured $100,000 in government grants to help pay for police security on its Shuttle Service bus system, and $30,000 of that amount is earmarked for Southwest Regional over a three-year period, he said.