When "Brad," a patrol officer at the Memphis Police Department's West Precinct, goes to work, he has to wait almost an hour before being assigned a car.
The officer, who asked to remain anonymous, says a shortage of working police cars means vehicles are often shared between overlapping shifts.
"About half of our cars are in the shop or not functioning all of the time," says Brad. "People end up going home at 2:15 p.m. when they're supposed to leave at 3 p.m. There's this overlap where there's not enough officers on the street."
Brad works the "Charlie" shift, a late-day shift that begins at 2 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m. Typically, that shift shares cars with the graveyard shift ("Alpha"), which spans 11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Similarly, the "Bravo" shift (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) is supposed to share cars with the "Delta" shift (5 p.m. to 1 a.m.).
For the last few months, the officers on the Charlie shift have had to share with officers on the overlapping Bravo shift.
MPD public relations officer Vince Higgins admits that there are shortages of working vehicles in some precincts but says officers don't need to come back to the precinct very early to give the next shift their cars.
"If a guy's working the day shift and there's a guy coming in on the evening shift that needs to use the car, the day-shift officer that's out patrolling only has to come in maybe 10 minutes early," says Higgins. "I don't think that increases any liability. You can make the argument for that, but it's a stretch."
But the cars are being driven more, which might compound the problem.
"When Charlie shift shares our cars with Alpha shift, they're running about 16 hours a day," says Brad. "But when Bravo shift takes our cars, they're running 23 hours a day. So they're going in the shop a lot faster."
Higgins says the situation should be remedied shortly. Last week, a City Council budget committee approved almost $4.8 million in 2007 for 175 new marked police cars and 62 unmarked cars. The fiscal year begins July 1, 2006.
"These cars generally have a shelf life of about four-and-a-half years," says Higgins. "They start degrading after that. ... So we have to try and replenish the fleet. But we can't replenish them all at once."
Higgins blames some of the problem on abuse, saying that the department "has a lot of officers who crash cars." But he says that the department has little choice but to push cars to the limit due to the city budget crunch. MPD currently owns 800 marked cars, 500 unmarked cars, 36 motorcycles, and 36 crime-scene vans.
"We have our problems with vehicles, but there is not a department in the country that doesn't have that problem," says Higgins. "It's not unique to Memphis, nor is it unexpected."