Leg up or free ride? Chattanooga to charge officers for take-hom - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Leg up or free ride? Chattanooga to charge officers for take-home cars

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - For almost a quarter century, Chattanooga has had a 'home fleet' plan for emergency responders. More than 350 police officers take home their work vehicles; marked cruisers or undercover cars.

Taxpayer Sunshine Shadwick sees that as a free ride in the company car.

"They're off the clock so that should be their responsibility; just like driving my car home to and from work," she says.

City Council President Manny Rico believes the practice is both a perk and an added layer of protection for citizens, but it's getting tougher to justify in a tighter economy.

"Using taxpayer money for gasoline , wear-and-tear on the vehicles; it all adds up," he says.

Officers 'guesstimate' that paying for their 'take home' car would cost them between $75 and $300 per month, depending how away they live from Police Services.

Come January 1, those with 'take home cars' will pay a commuting cost of 20 cents per mile if they live within city limits; 30 cents per mile outside city limits.

City leaders maintain that those costs represent only a quarter to a third of the 'true costs' of operating and maintaining those vehicles.

"We don't want to start laying people off, or furloughing them," Rico says.  "That's what's happening all over the country."

"I can go to a dealership today and get a car cheaper than they're charging me to rent my police equipment," says Sergeant Craig Joel, leader of the Chattanooga Police Benevolent Association.

Sgt. Joel claims Chattanooga already is saving far more than the cost of the take-home cars, by leaving the Police Department 65 officers short of its fully-authorized complement.

"In many cases, we're gonna be passing the actual problem that we'll be responding to in our cars," Sgt. Joel says.

Taxpayer Rick Longie says officers shouldn't have to pay to be able to respond right away, with one exception.

"If that's my side gig, you know;" he says. "I work for a cell phone company yet I go on my own sales gig at Radio Shack? That's on me, not on my original company."

"We are just as much a police officer when we're working side jobs as when we're on the clock for the city," Sgt. Joel responds.

Besides, Sgt. Joel argues, officers wouldn't need side jobs if Chattanooga paid them properly.

Rico is sympathetic, to a point.

"I hate that we're doing it, the Mayor hates that we're doing it," he says.

"But with the economy like it is, everybody is going to have to sacrifice a little bit."

The commuting charge will be effective with officers' paychecks January 13.  Chief Bobby Dodd has not taken a public position on the issue.

Sgt. Joel would not say how many officers might give up their take-home vehicles,  but he promises that the PBA will attend the next City Council meeting to take issue with the measure.

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