LIVINGSTON, NJ – An internal issue within Livingston Township's government regarding the status of Livingston’s current police fleet, as well as significant delays in the ordering of new police cars, became public at the town council meeting of June 24 when auxiliary police member Larry Greenberg and Councilmembers Michael Rieber and Deborah Shapiro all questioned Town Manager Michele Meade on the efficiency of the current system for ordering and preparing cars for the Livingston Police Department.
Greenberg complained to Meade that “the fleet is falling apart and you had five cars towed in in-service last week. I would suggest that this township look at the police cars as an image for the good people and also for the bad people. And you really need to look at your fleet which is in a total state of disrepair.”
Meade responded by saying “the fleet is looked at every year,” but according to Greenberg, Police Benevolent Association President Andrew Ullman and Police Chief Craig Handschuch, a full fleet evaluation was never completed.
Greenberg responded, “You don’t evaluate every car every year. They’ve asked for cars to be fully evaluated and the town garage has refused, stating that they are too busy. You need to get new cars on the road; it’s a liability for everyone.”
Ullman told TheAlternativePress.com that a full fleet evaluation was requested by the PBA Joint Management Committee in April 2012 and that it was supposed to be completed by September 2012. To Ullman’s knowledge, only two vehicles have been evaluated by the Department of Public Works (DPW).
Handschuch told TheAlternativePress.com that another full fleet evaluation was requested by the Livingston Police Department in August of 2012 and that was never completed either.
“We currently have about 12 cars in the fleet that are over 100,000 miles,” said Handschuch. “A lot of these cars are definitely in need of replacement. They have said they are going to replace more cars this year.”
Another complaint, first addressed to the council by Greenberg, was the timeliness of ordering and preparing cars for patrol. In December 2012, the township purchased two cars which are still not ready for patrol seven months later.
After the council’s open meeting, the council retreated to hold another conference where Rieber and Shapiro asked more questions about the current police car situation.
“We get these cars and they’re not ready,” said Rieber. He also suggested to Meade that the Police Department should be spec’ing out the cars (reviewing the car details) before the DPW orders them. She told Rieber that the cars are spec’ed out through state contract.
Meade also gave a reason for the cars not being ready after seven months, “They are not built to be ready. Every department has a different video setup, a different radio setup--you can’t buy a car to have everything in it that you want to have in it.” She also explained that because these components needed to be installed a la carte, consoles were ordered for the vehicles but arrival has been delayed due to shipping issues.
“I don’t disagree with you--I’m not defending that this is not a problem--this is the way it’s been done in the past,” said Meade to Rieber. “I don’t know how to control for the fact that these consoles took this long to get in.”
Shapiro then asked Meade, “What’s your recommendation to ensure that from the time the car is ordered to the time it’s deployed it’s less than seven months?”
Meade replied, “I can’t control for manufacturer’s delivery on consoles--so I can’t speak to that. So there could be those situations that happen. I know that they’re already working on what they want to put in the next brand of cars. The I.T. guy is working on the computer equipment, the police department I assume is going to be working on their video equipment and the things they are going to get that’s unique to them, and Public Works is working on their side of it. If the manufacturer had a delay or some problem arises, I don’t know how we can control that.”
TheAlternativePress.com contacted Mike Anello, Superintendent of Public Works and Police Chief Handschuch to get clarification on the car vetting and ordering process.
While Mr. Anello did not respond to repeated requests for comment from TheAlternativePress.com, Handschuch said the two new police cars did in fact come in with consoles already installed; they were just the wrong ones. This problem, however was not identified by fleet maintenance (DPW) until March of 2013, three months after the cars had arrived.
The Chief explained that if the Police Department had ordered the cars in the first place, different decisions would have been made from the start.
“We would have ordered a different console. There is no doubt about it – we would have ordered some different equipment than what was in the cars.” Handschuch also explained that although he was not sure if the wrong console was originally ordered or if the car just came standard with that console, 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.
Ullman also agreed with Handschuch, “I can’t tell you if we would have ordered the new cars in a more orderly manner, since we have never had those cars.” However, Ullman also said that there was definitely enough information to have the prior knowledge to order the right consoles and correct equipment in the first place if there was more communication between the police and the DPW fleet maintenance.
Handschuch said that since the console situation occurred, the DPW has been communicating more regularly with the police department and has been taking recommendations from them for ordering future vehicles.
“I definitely feel the police department should be involved in the selection of the police cars, there’s no doubt about it.” Handschuch explained that the Police Department has traditionally ordered their own vehicles and that this shift in responsibility to the DPW took place in 2012.
“What I am anticipating is that--well, I’m hoping, that this time we will sit down [with the DPW] and we’ll decide what needs to be in the vehicles. I’ve voiced my opinion on that--whatever we do; I hope that we will be sitting down this time together.”
Handschuch said that with the additional communication recently implemented between the DPW and the LPD, the process of ordering new vehicles will improve.