Despite cuts, UTPD budget stays intact as it introduces new Ford Explorers

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UTPD is stepping it up with the addition of new SUV’s.  With nearly $15,000 of police equipment per vehicle, new Ford Explorers will endure wear and tear while ensuring an optimum environment for officers to work on the go.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

UTPD’s newest form of transportation — a fleet of brand-new, police-ready Ford Explorers — cost UTPD roughly $50,000 per vehicle. Campus security administrators had to fight to enable these and other enhancements in the face of wide-reaching budget cuts.

Bob Harkins, vice president for Campus Safety and Security, said departments at all levels of the University were faced with budget deficits, but in the end, interest in campus safety was enough to avert any reduction in UTPD’s funds, which stands at almost $9 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

“We protected the people in UTPD,” Harkins said. “We protected their training and their equipment.”

Assistant chief of police Terry McMahan said UTPD’s vehicles undergo a significant amount of wear and tear — more so than the average car — and the department needs continued funding to replace vehicles every year.

“Officers get in and out of their vehicles 24-seven,” McMahan said. “Cars take a beating in this business.”

Harkins said $50,000 sounds like a significant amount of money to spend on a car, but roughly $15,000 of the cost comes from policing equipment installed in each vehicle.

Before purchasing vehicles from the state, the department takes gas efficiency, quality and interior spaciousness into consideration.

“We want our officers to be comfortable,” McMahan said. “Some professionals have offices — University police officers have patrol cars. The car is the office.”

McMahan said vehicles are replaced after they accumulate high mileage or become too expensive to maintain. Once a car is decommissioned, it is stripped down and auctioned off by the University.

“[Our vehicles] don’t accumulate mileage on highways like most cars do — it’s city mileage and that’s tough on an engine,” McMahan said.

Once a proposal for a new fleet is drawn up by the department, it is up to Patricia Clubb, vice president of University Operations, to decide whether to approve the department’s requests. Clubb said she is sympathetic to police officers’ need for a working vehicle and strives to get as much funding for the department as she can.

“There’s a lot of starting and stopping, which causes a whole lot of wear and tear on those vehicles,” Clubb said. “The officers are really dependent on their cars and that’s a big part of what they do … We run these cars into the ground. When they’re ready to be replaced, we step up and fund those new vehicles.”

Although administration shielded the department from significant cuts, Clubb said the department’s cost-efficiency also makes equipment enhancements possible. She said improvements in police technology such as the installation of laptop computers in police cruisers have streamlined UTPD’s record-keeping process, saving the department time and money.

“We can spend more time on policing and less time on the paperwork,” Clubb said.

Currently, UTPD has 18 commissioned vehicles — 10 patrol cars, four supervisor vehicles and four canine transfer units.

McMahan said he expects new vehicles to last three to five years before they are rotated out of commission. 

Clubb said she will continue to stand up for the department and push to get them the resources they need.

“The campus depends on the police department for its safety,” Clubb said. “I think there’s a feeling of well-being throughout campus because of having a good police department. Safety is what they’re all about, and I think they’ve done a great job.”