By Justin Sondel firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Falls Police Department’s fleet of aging, overworked cruisers will finally be put out to pasture.
The department can now start shopping for new cars for the first time since 2008. The Niagara Falls City Council approved a measure from Mayor Paul Dyster’s office at Tuesday’s council meeting allocating $513,000 in casino revenues to buy 19 new cars, essentially replacing the entire fleet.
Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto said his cars run for days at a time with officers leaving the cruiser running for the next shift when returning to the public safety building.
“The cars are running 24 hours a day because of the new computer equipment,” he said.
The computer systems take a long time to reboot and automatically shut down when the car is not running.
And that would cause problems for the officer just starting a shift if they received a call right away, DalPorto said.
“It’s better to just leave them running because it doesn’t shut down the whole system,” he explained.
State guidelines suggest that police vehicles be replaced at 90,000 miles.
Almost all of the department’s cruisers have reached that threshold with many surpassing it by tens of thousands of miles. Some of the cars have important components — like defrosters, essential in the often brutal winter months — that no longer work, DalPorto said.
“They’ve become a safety issue with the defrosters,” he said.
According to DalPorto, it was important for the council to approve the allocation now, and not as part of the adopted 2014 budget, so that the department can begin ordering cars right away.
“We really have to get these things ordered before winter,” he said.
The department’s vehicles see tough miles, covering the large footprint of the Cataract City, often traversing streets pock marked by pot holes.
DalPorto said the rough city driving has taken its toll on the cruisers and that the department is in “desperate need” of new cars.
“Basically the stock of patrol cars has to be replaced,” DalPorto said. “They’re just shot.”
Most of the city’s current fleet will be auctioned off, with some cars going to other departments.
“Some of them are better than others,” DalPorto said. “But, they’re past the point of use for a police vehicle.”
The police department, like many city departments, held off on new equipment during the four-year dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state over an exclusivity clause in the 2002 gaming compact.
The Senecas stopped paying the state in 2009 — and the state stopped paying the host cities like Niagara Falls — because, they claimed, the state had violated the contract by placing gaming devices in race tracks within the exclusivity zone outlined in the provision and marketed those facilities as casinos.
The Senecas and the state reached a negotiated settlement in June and the city received the $89 million withheld during the dispute in August.
The city has moved to replace outdated and overused equipment for other departments in recent weeks, approving the allocation of over $1 million to purchase new vehicles and road repair equipment for the Department of Public Works in late September.
Dyster said designation of money for the new police cruisers represents the next step in that mission.
“We’re trying to get back onto a more regular schedule for replacing equipment,” Dyster said.
And by replacing equipment on a more regular basis the city can keep repair costs down and take advantage of more cost effective technology, like fuel efficient motors in the case of the new police vehicles.
“We believe that, if you can afford to, you should replace equipment on a regular basis and not just drive the equipment into the ground,” Dyster said.
In addition, in consistently updating equipment the city protects officers and allows them to be more efficient in their jobs, Dyster said.
“We want to make sure that our equipment is safe and reliable,” Dyster said.
Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian said that by approving the money now the department can begin to work toward replacing the worst cars as soon as possible, instead of waiting for January when the new budget year begins.
“It takes a while to get that stuff in too, so we’re trying to get it done just like we did for DPW,” Choolokian said.
Choolokian said the city should be providing officers with the equipment they need to stay safe in performing their duties.
“You have to have the equipment to do the right things,” Choolokian said. “Especially for the safety of the officer, the safety of the community.”$513K Amount of casino revenue being used by city to buy 19 new police patrol cars Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257