July 23, 2013 at 6:00 AM
LIVINGSTON, NJ – Frustration from delays in police car delivery and maintenance in Livingston continues to escalate. At the July 8 council workshop meeting, Auxiliary Police Officer Larry Greenberg confronted the town council for the second time this month about making police cars operational.
At the meeting, Greenberg addressed Township Manager Michele Meade by asking, “Is there a policy or procedure for repairing police cars? We have a car out there, 961, which has been out there since the end of April which was in a minor accident – it also has an $8,000 plate reader in there.
“It’s just been sitting there,” Greenberg said, “and, maybe things are working with the insurance company but there’s no communication, it’s like a black hole. It’s right by the dumpster. It’s ready for big garbage pickup. You’ve all noticed it, but there’s no communication back and forth. I think that is one of the major problems that you have here. The responsibility of someone – they’re not doing their job.”
Meade assured Greenberg that Sergeant John Drumm and the Department of Public Works (DPW) have been in constant communication about Car 961 and that he was assigned by Police Chief Craig Handschuch to be the liaison between the police department and fleet maintenance.
“The Public Works Department and Sergeant Drumm in the police department are in constant contact about that,” said Meade. “As a matter of fact, the police department is the one that handles the details with the insurance company – the insurance company just signed off on it at the end of last week. “
While Meade claims that it is the duty of the police department to file the insurance claim, an email dated May 6, from Lt. Jay van de Beek to Captain Gary Marshuetz and copied to Sergeant Drumm, outlined a different understanding. The email stated that, “At this time, the insurance loss report was not completed, as I was informed that the town garage completes the form now.”
Drumm and Handschcuch both confirmed that there was a policy change in the beginning of the year in which the town garage would be handling insurance claims moving forward.
Drumm explained that the reason for the delay was due to the absence of a key employee in the clerk’s office, Carolyn Oertzen, who has been out on leave. Oertzen has been in charge of filing claims since the change.
Drumm said that he finally got a call from Chris Southworth, the town mechanic, around June 20 (two weeks after the accident) asking Drumm to fill out the insurance claim form.
“With Carolyn being out and with the other issues that are going on in town, I’m assuming that it slipped his (Southworth’s) mind, and I don’t blame him,” said Drumm.
By June 27, the insurance company came to look at the car and the town received a check for damages on July 8. “The car should have been fixed.” said Drumm, “If Carolyne wasn’t out or if they left us to do the form it would have been done.”
As the liaison between the police department and DPW fleet maintenance, Drumm proposed three recommendations to the slow-moving car maintenance and ordering process.
He said that his first recommendation would be to have the police department fill out the insurance claim form at the same time that it fills out the accident and disability report, which according to Drumm are always filled out on the same day as the accident.
His second recommendation would be for the town to allow the police department to make body shop arrangements. “It’s also easier to make our own arrangements to send cars to the body shop,” Drumm said. “ Now cars have to go to the DPW and then the DPW has to send it to the body shop. We can bypass that step.”
And third, Drumm recommended that the town finance department should allow for an open purchase order policy for police car parts. “Purchasing of parts slows down the process as well,” said Drumm. “There always needs to be a P.O. for each item ordered. The P.O.’s are never done right away.”
The question of proper procedure for car repair and replacement was also a topic of discrepancy at the town council meeting on July 1, where Greenberg and council members Michael Rieber and Deborah Shapiro challenged Meade to produce a solution for the seven-month running delay on making the newly ordered (December 2012) police cars ready for patrol.
During that meeting, Meade responded to Greenberg and the council by blaming the delay on the car console manufacturer.
“I can’t control for manufacturer’s delivery on consoles--so I can’t speak to that,” Meade said. “So there could be those situations that happen.” According to Meade, the delay was due to a manufacturer’s delay. She also made no mention of any potential internal communication problems between the police department and DPW.
Handschuch explained to TheAlternativePress.com that it was the DPW fleet maintenance that did not identify the wrong consoles until March (which accounts for the first three of the seven month delay). He also said that this determination might have been made sooner than March, if the cars were inspected by the police department when they had first arrived in January.
“We would have ordered a different console,” said Handschuch. “There is no doubt about it, we would have ordered some different equipment than what was in the cars.”
Mayor Rudy Fernandez described a different scenario to TheAlterntivePress.com where the police department and the DPW were in constant contact from beginning to end in the ordering process.
“Prior to ordering the vehicles, Officer (Rick) Howard, (who) at the time was assigned by the chief as assistant police liaison to fleet maintenance, gave Fleet Maintenance Foreman Chris Southworth a written list of what the police department wanted in the vehicles. This is from the list of options that were available on the state contract. The items the police department wanted were ordered,” Fernandez said.
“When the order was placed in December 2012, Chris Southworth sent the chief an email confirming all the details of what was ordered in concert with the requests of the police department.”
Fernandez continued, “Sgt. Drumm, who is currently assigned by the chief as the police liaison to fleet maintenance, inspected the cars as soon as they were delivered to the township, as did the chief and other members of the department.”
“About one month after the delivery, the police department determined that the flat console that they had asked for initially did not work for them and they wanted to order an angled console. This console was not one of the two available options for purchase under state contract. The police department identified a custom console and they gave the information to fleet maintenance to order.”
In a report given by Meade and published in the July 11 edition of The West Essex Tribune, Meade said that “there had been no complaints from the police department when fleet maintenance ordered three police cars in 2011.”
But according to Handschuch and Drumm, there were no complaints in 2011 because the DPW and the police department collaborated on the order before it was placed, unlike the December 2012 order.
Shapiro also shared her feeling on the police department/DWP relationship and car maintenance situation.
“On this issue, it’s not working as well as it should be,” Shapiro said. “Michele admits that, the chief admits that, the DPW admits that – and I think that everyone is of good faith and wants to make sure that the problem is taken care of.”
“It’s a terrible thing to have two cars that have been ordered months ago not as yet deployed. But I think that now that we are shining a light on it – I think that this is something that is going to be quickly fixed, said Shapiro, “and I think it’s a thing that myself and Michael Rieber will continue to be squeaky wheels about.”
She also said that, “there is a lot of work that needs to be done. “Everyone on the town council is doing the best that we can, with the abilities that we have and the powers that we have to execute things.”
As of July 22, Drumm reported that fleet maintenance had picked up car 961 and he was told that it was being worked on over the weekend. He also said that the two new police cars have not been deployed.