The Birmingham Fraternal Order of Police (BFOP) is working with the city to implement a take-home car program for the Birmingham Police Department (BPD), which it hopes will reduce crime and retain officers.
On Tuesday, BFOP vice president Lawrence Billups told 1819 News that the city had considered similar programs since at least the 1990s. However, he now feels progress is being made.
Billups said the BFOP has been working with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin to agree to a way to allow BPD officers to take home their patrol cars when they clock out.
“Right now, we’re at 260 officers,” he explained. “They’re capable of doing it. One of the plans they brought up was to issue 75 cars with the fleet that we’ve got, handing those new cars over to senior officers and dwindling down.”
This way, Billups insisted, the younger officers, who have less driving experience, get older cars. He said one of Woodfin’s concerns has been that new officers, some as young as 19, would tear up city vehicles if allowed to take them home.
“You’re hiring folks who got their license last week, and you’re telling them to basically go out and drive in a way that they could never drive just a regular citizen, so that’s a big issue,” Billups explained.
Nevertheless, Billups said that a take-home-car program, if worked out, could help the BPD both reduce crime and retain officers.
Last year was Birmingham’s most violent year since the early 1990s, and several sources ranked the city one of the most unsafe in the country.
Meanwhile, BPD struggles to recruit and retain personnel.
Billups said that as the Birmingham Metro Area broke down into smaller municipalities, officers left BPD for other departments in the region. Further, many of the surrounding municipalities provide their officers with take-home cars.
Billups says take-home cars add extra value to the police officers’ compensation. With a take-home car, officers would be less likely to have to purchase and maintain a car of their own.
“In the way policing is at this point, you’ve got to take advantage of every situation you can take advantage of,” he said. “... It’s one thing to recruit them. It’s another thing to retain them. They got a take [and] they’re making good money, there’s no need to go to another department.”
A take-home car program would likely mean more police cars on the streets because off-duty officers would use their cars for personal use. This, Billups said, could help deter crime.
“It helps in the reception,” he explained. “The county is just as short as we are, but every 10 minutes, you see a county car. Whether that’s them going to an extra job, going to shop for extra groceries, going to have a business or going to work, it’s always seeing a counted car, and so we have to follow that model because we’re so short.”
“I was talking to somebody the other day, and they said, ‘Well, I never see the police,” he added.
Billups also said that take-home cars will reduce maintenance costs as cars are driven less.
“It’s a proven fact that if everybody had a take-home car, cars are driven less,” he elaborated. “... Instead of going to the shop every two months for regular maintenance, I’m going to shop every four months for regular maintenance.”
“I’ve got about five years left,” Billips said later. “I’m praying in the next few years it comes because we can’t afford to lose any more officers. We really can’t, and so, like I said, everything we can do to hold officers, we have to do.”
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