Buffalo cops still waiting on patrol cars

Investigative Post reported in August that the Buffalo Police Department was woefully short of working patrol cars.

The city’s failure to purchase new cars regularly, deferred maintenance and inadequate staffing at the department’s garage had led to a situation the Police Benevolent Association president John Evans described as “dire.” Among the resulting problems: officers without access to vehicles to respond to 911 calls in a timely fashion.

Almost six months later, Buffalo’s patrol officers are still waiting for relief. On Tuesday, members of the Common Council’s Police Oversight Committee learned the arrival of new cars is still many months away.

Commissioner Byron C. Lockwood confirmed to the committee that the department has not yet ordered any of the 14 cars it had been authorized to purchase in the current budget year.

Instead, Lockwood told the committee, the department has decided to explore leasing new cars instead of purchasing them. Last Friday the department received responses to a request for proposals from several leasing companies, describing terms and costs.

The good news: For the cost of purchasing 14 cars outright, the department can lease 26 cars. Combined with authorization to purchase 20 new cars with money borrowed under the city’s capital budget, that would mean 46 new patrol cars to replenish the department’s dilapidated fleet.

The bad news: The department needed those new cars six months ago.

It’ll be a month, possibly two, before the city awards a contract to a leasing company. And the capital budget borrowing, though approved, will not take place until April.

In the past, when purchasing outright, the city expected to take delivery of a fully outfitted patrol car six to eight months after ordering it — sometimes longer.

Captain Jeff Rinaldo, the department’s spokesman, said he wasn’t sure how long a leasing company might take to deliver new vehicles. A big leasing company that services many departments nationwide might be able to deliver cars more quickly, he said.

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Lockwood told members of the committee that the department has 190 cars total. Of those, 56 are at the department’s garage on Seneca Street, awaiting repairs or routine maintenance. The garage employs five mechanics and a supervisor. There is room in the police budget for three more mechanics, but those positions are vacant.

That leaves 134 working cars available citywide. Lockwood said the department needs 130 cars to equip officers to respond to calls. That does not take into account other uses of patrol cars, such as transporting detainees.

Last August, police union officials told Investigative Post the department was meant to have 200 cars available to officers.

“The situation has not improved,” said Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association. “It remains ridiculous.”