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By Jacqueline Koch
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Police officers began doubling up in patrol cars Wednesday to reduce the amount of gasoline used by the department, a move that cuts down on the number of vehicles out patrolling.
Police Chief Freeman Cooper said saving money on gas is necessary since the department was more than $570,000 over budget in fuel costs during the last fiscal year.
"We're not changing numbers ... of officers on the street," he said. "All we did was park a few cars that we're using on patrol and putting (officers) in cars with another officer."
Most calls fielded by the department require at least two officers at a scene anyway, Deputy Chief Mark Rawlston said.
"If two officers are in a car, then only one car has to respond to that scene," he said.
"The action that we've taken is in response to the current fuel crisis," Deputy Chief Rawlston said. "We, like everybody else, struggle to get gasoline deliveries."
Neither the Tennessee Highway Patrol nor the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department is doubling up on officers because their jurisdictions are spread so wide, officials at those departments said. Neither agency is implementing new procedures to address fuel costs, they said.
Next week, Chattanooga Police Department administrators will meet to discuss ways to further reduce costs, including not responding to certain calls that can be handled by phone, Chief Cooper said. City residents call the police department for anything from a leaky faucet to a cat in a tree, and officers respond to those scenes, he said.
In addition to cutting back on such non-crime calls, police will consider having people with minor complaints call in the incidents, either to call-takers or to Teleserve, a system that allows residents who do not need immediate police response to make reports over the telephone so officers do not have to drive to the scene, he said.
Delayed incidents, such as minor thefts or burglaries or minor car accidents without injuries, also could be reported over the phone, Chief Cooper said.
Using patrol cars for second, nondepartmental jobs such as providing security at businesses and allowing officers living in Hamilton County to drive department vehicles home also may be stopped, he said.
The chief said the decision to double up in patrol cars comes after officers living outside Hamilton County were told they could not drive their take-home cars home.
"Nothing is sacred as far as not being touched," Chief Cooper said. "We're looking at all areas."
The decision to double up patrol officers cuts down on the number of vehicles patrolling an area to prevent crime, Chief Rawlston acknowledged. Officers also will be busier because, in the past, multiple calls could be split up among single officers, but now all calls must be handled by two, he said.
The decision takes half the available officers off the street to respond to calls at the risk of public safety and astonishes many members of the Southeast chapter of the Police Benevolent Association, said Sgt. Craig Joel, chapter president.
Two officers will respond to every shoplifting call and minor car accident, tying up officers when major events occur, he said.
"The police officers will always find a way to make it work," he said. "We will always do everything we can to keep you safe. But it should not be despite the efforts of the people elected to run the city."
The Chattanooga Police Department isn't the only agency making changes to save money on fuel.
Walker County, Ga., Sheriff Steve Wilson said his department already has fuel conservation measures in place, including combining trips and limiting engine idling, and he has considered pairing deputies in one car during typically slower periods of the day.
He said, though, he did not think round-the-clock double deputy patrols would work in such a large, rural county.
"With the call volume we have during peak times, we would take a step backwards and certainly not be providing the service our residents expect," he said. "When somebody calls 911, they want an officer there right then, they don't care about the price of gas."
Cleveland, Tenn., police Capt. David Bishop said officers are doubling up for patrols, parking some cars during periods when shifts overlap and using foot and bike patrols when possible.
"We instituted these programs probably three weeks ago," he said. "It seems to work well. We haven't had any complaints on response times or anything like that."

Wire Service
 
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