When Frank Fowler took over as Syracuse Police Chief, more than seventy officers were taking a department car home at night. Fowler says that number has been gradually reduced to somewhere in the forties. Fowler said he isn't sure of the exact number because the department just removed one take home car when an officer retired last week. Fowler's progress in reducing the number of take home cars is not fast enough for some Syracuse common councilors. Democrat Lance Denno says the city can't afford to give any officers the perk of a car to take home and wants the practice eliminated.
On Monday, the common council approved the chief's funding request for twenty one marked vehicles, three concealed identity vehicles, and one prisoner transport vehicles was approved.to buy twenty one new marked police cars but separated and rejected funds to buy twenty two new unmarked cars. Some councilors cited concerns with the take home policy. Before the vote, Fowler says the unmarked cars were needed for use by on duty detectives - and would not be taken home.
"I need these vehicles to keep the community safe and if they made a choice that I'm not going to have these vehicles, then I'm going to tell you right now it is going to impair my ability to do my job as chief of police," said Fowler.
Fowler and Mayor Stephanie Miner say councilors have unfairly connected necessary new car purchases with the issue of take home cars. The mayor's chief of staff said the councilor's request to immediately abolish take home cars is unreasonable since the vehicles are covered under current collective bargaining agreements.
"It is frustrating to me that this council knows that. I they are trying to make an issue out of something and asking us to fix something that can not be fixed overnight," said Bill Ryan."The Council is taking a giant leap to construe that this vehicle purchase is designed to provide take home vehicles for officers," Miner said. "The Syracuse Police Department has not at any time said that in the discussion of this purchase. The council is connecting dots that are simply not connected."
Miner says councilors are ignoring the legal reality of the situation and showing an unwillingness to understand the complicated issues facing the city.
Denno says a possible lawsuit from the police officer's union is not a good enough reason to allow officers to continue taking cars home at night.
"We face lawsuits from the PBA on a regular basis. That is not a good excuse for an outrageous expenditure of public money," said Denno.
This is an issues that's been brewing for years. In 2011, Miner and lawmakers struck a deal to allow the police department to purchase several marked and unmarked vehicles. As part of the compromise, the police department had to cut back on take-home cars by 20 percent.
Both Fowler and common councilors expect conversations about the unmarked police cars to continue. If they can come to an agreement, the request for new unmarked cars could be resubmitted.