By Tim Yovich
Departments are using everything from bicycles to preventive maintenance.
High fuel prices are forcing law enforcement officials in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys to come up with ways to reduce fuel usage without reducing the protection offered to the public.
Boardman Police Chief Patrick Berarducci said he has taken some steps to save on fuel costs, and other strategies are being reviewed.
Between 25 and 28 officers take township-owned police cruisers home with them, leaving 12 cruisers available for night patrols, Berarducci explained. The cars are not used when taken home. However, robbers and burglars have been captured because of the quick response by off-duty officers.
“I think it’s working out good for us,” Berarducci said.
The chief explained that the department has been paying attention to preventive maintenance of its vehicles — tuned up and properly inflated tires — to increase mileage.
Also, township police don’t speed in the cruisers or use their lights and sirens unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Another fuel-saving idea being “kicked around,” Berarducci said, is decreasing the number of cruisers on patrol by putting two officers in one car.
The difficulty with that, he said, is that it limits police exposure to the public, and most calls for assistance don’t require two officers.
At the Ohio State Highway Patrol post in Canfield, troopers use “flex fuel” in their unmarked cars. They run on either gasoline or ethanol.
Sgt. John Altman, assistant post commander, said the patrol carpools when troopers travel for training rather than each trooper using an individual car.
The Canfield post doesn’t have a storage tank, so it can’t buy gasoline at a bulk rate. Rather, troopers use fleet fuel cards at service stations. Troopers are urged, Altman said, to fill up when they spot less-expensive gasoline at the commercial pumps.
But buying in bulk doesn’t prevent cost increases.
At the Warren Police Department, there has been a 61-cent-a-gallon increase in three months.
The police department paid $3.10 per gallon in April, $3.35 in May and $3.71 this month.
At the Sharon Police Department, Chief Mike Menster said the use of bicycles is one way his department plans to reduce fuel costs.
The bikes will be used this summer to patrol the downtown and high-crime neighborhoods. At the same time, Menster said, officers are urged to get out of their cruisers and walk neighborhoods.
“It’s just little things like that,” Menster said, of ways to cut costs.
The chief said the department bought a van to run prisoners from Sharon to court in Mercer — a 20-mile round trip.
The van carries 12 prisoners and reduces fuel costs because it reduces the number of trips to Mercer.
Sharon officers also take their cruisers home with them. Menster said it cuts down on mileage, increases assistance by off-duty officers and serves as a deterrent to neighborhood crime where the cruisers are parked.
At the New Castle barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police, station commander Lt. Steve Ignatz said troopers are using a few strategies to cut down on the use of gasoline.
For example, they reduce idling time and use credit cards to find the cheapest gas they can.
Like Ignatz, Ernest Cook, chief deputy of the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, said it’s difficult to balance doing the mission and reducing the cost of fuel.
“These are some things that are the cost of doing business,” Cook said of maintaining patrols. “I want them [deputies] to answer calls for service.”
As a result, the sheriff’s department has already used 58 percent of the amount budgeted for fuel this year, Cook said.
The high use is despite deputies’ shutting down their cruisers 15 minutes each hour and getting 22 to 23 miles per gallon because they patrol rural roads rather than the stop-and-go driving in a city.