UPDATED JUNE 11, 2014
By Don Nelson
They don’t start. Even if they start, they often break down. They smell. The light bar on one of them starts flashing randomly, all by itself.
Winthrop’s two operational police vehicles are worn out, dangerous, in need of constant repair and should be replaced as soon as possible, Marshal Rikki Schwab told the Town Council Wednesday (June 4).
Schwab presented the council with a plan to purchase two used four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Colorado crew-cab pickup trucks to replace the existing Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Explorer SUVs the department now has. The Chevrolet has about 177,000 miles and the Ford about 127,000 miles, Schwab said.
Schwab said the replacement vehicles could be purchased using money in her budget that was allocated for a new vehicle, plus funds saved while the Marshal’s Office was operating with only one of its three authorized positions — for a total of more than $46,000. There would also be enough money to transfer much of the equipment on the existing vehicles to the newly purchased trucks, she said.
The council endorsed Schwab’s proposal after she noted that the two vehicles the department now has cannot be counted on to even keep running, and are constantly in the shop for repairs. The vehicles are “nickel and dime-ing my department to death,” she said. A third vehicle, a Dodge Durango SUV, doesn’t run at all.
Schwab said she has done extensive research on available vehicles and that the used trucks she has in mind can be purchased for a reasonable price.
Even in her short tenure — Schwab was sworn in on May 28 — the marshal said that several major repairs have been made on the department’s vehicles. At times the vehicles had to be towed, and deputy Ken Bajema had to push one of the trucks off the road when it stalled, Schwab said.
Schwab said she’s worried that she and her deputies won’t be able to reliably respond to calls for assistance.
“When they call us, I want to be able to give them what’s expected,” she said. “I’m afraid for the safety of our citizens.”
“They are dangerous to operate,” Schwab said of her dilapidated fleet. “This is the prime time to do it.”
The department has about $12,700 allotted for vehicle replacement in its current budget and has saved about $34,000 in salaries during the budget year, Schwab said. She said the town could expect to sell the existing vehicles.
Council member Mike Strulic raised several questions about why a crew cab was necessary, what kind of gas mileage to expect and the conditions under which people taken into custody would travel.
Schwab pointed out that the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office has a lot of crew cab pickups, and that it’s preferable to have four-wheel-drive trucks rather than cars given the nature of Methow Valley winters and terrain. The second seat of a crew cab is spacious enough to accommodate most prisoners, she said.
As for comfort, Schwab said the seats in the existing trucks are cloth-covered and are so stained and malodorous from years of absorbing every kind of body fluid that they can’t be cleaned. “You wouldn’t drive your own car like that,” Schwab said.
The trucks she is considering purchasing have leather-covered seats, she said.
Council member Jessica Sheehan, bothered by Strulic’s questions about prisoner comfort, told him that “you are giving too much concern to the people in the back of the rig rather than the people in the front.”
“She [Schwab] is asking to use her own department’s money to make the purchase,” Sheehan added. “I don’t see why that is an issue.”
Council member Mort Banasky said she thinks now is a good time to replace the old police vehicles.
“We inherited the problem,” she said. “If [better maintenance] had been done, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Schwab said she would expect the newly purchased vehicles to last five years with proper maintenance, enough time for the town to seek other funding sources such as grants to keep the fleet current.
“I promise you, you won’t be disappointed,” Schwab said.
AN EARLIER VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED JUNE 5, 2014