Police cars give pause to speeders

SHADY COVE — Unexpected brake lights are becoming a common sight within the city limits along Highway 62, as motorists suddenly realize that the vehicle parked by the side of the road is one of the city's newest police cars.

Two brand new 2007 Dodge Chargers have begun patrolling the town's neighborhoods, equipped with the latest police technology, and driven by an expanded city police department.

Purchased on a three-year lease-to-own program, the city will pay a total of $2,361.21 monthly for both vehicles.

Funding comes from the Shady Cove Public Safety Act passed by the council last spring but not implemented until the current fiscal year.

The act established a $15 monthly fee which is charged on residents' sewer bills, the money intended to supplement operations of the town's police department.

Now in its third month, the fee has brought the department back to staffing levels not seen since 2002.

In July, the department moved from a part-time chief, two full-time officers and a part-time clerk, to a full-time chief and three full-time officers. A full-time police secretary position was also authorized, and city officials say it will probably be filled later this year.

"This has been a great morale boost for the department," said Police Chief Rick Mendenhall. "Teamwork is incredible now, compared to what it used to be, and that's because the officers don't have to work such a strenuous schedule. We have more flexibility."

Mendenhall said he is gratified to find community support for the department.

"Several people have come up to me and said 'it's about time,' " he said. " 'You deserve it.' "

City Administrator Elise Smurzynski said there were a lot of unknowns when the safety fee began. Though the idea was to generate about $250,000 in additional support for the police department, she said there was no way to know what the community would do.

"We also set up a committee to hear appeals from low-income residents who might need a reduction in their monthly fee," said Smurzynski. "We had to see how that affected what the city actually received."

She said the delinquency rate on utility bills has remained at around 10 percent, where it was before the fee was instituted.

"So far, it seems most of the community is supporting the fee," she said. "We'll keep our eye on it."

The new patrol cars are all black, with white and silver lettering on each side.

"We were surprised to see that one of the stripes in the logo is purple," said Mendenhall. "We didn't expect it, but it really sets the car off and it turned out great."

He said for the first time the department has caught up with modern technology.

"Part of the police package we now have," said Mendenhall, "is the ICOP in-car video unit."

He said that because the system has video cameras that record everything the officer sees and hears, even when away from the patrol car, it will be extremely valuable in court cases.

"It will record everything that went bad and everything that went great," he said. "The officer will be able to burn all the information onto an in-car DVD and give it to the courts or to other departments if necessary."

The city's previous patrol vehicles had recorded well more than 100,000 miles and maintenance costs were rising.

"Neighborhood patrols over our 20 miles or so of streets is really rough on the cars," said Smurzynski. "Even though they're serviced every 3,000 miles, the older they get, the more maintenance issues you run into."

Mendenhall said the department will keep the old patrol cars as backups and for training.

"We'll use them for our reserve officers so they will actually get some seat time," he said.

Mendenhall said the new cars are working great and only one bug has been found. "One of the rear facing radar cones isn't working correctly," he said, "but we're working with the radar company and we expect to have the problem solved very soon."

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com

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