Hancock County

Will Waveland cops have to pay to take home their patrol cars? That’s an option, mayor says

A state-of-the-art police station and emergency shelter opened in Waveland 11 years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the old station.
A state-of-the-art police station and emergency shelter opened in Waveland 11 years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the old station. Sun Herald file photo

In the past, a couple of Waveland police officers with take-home cars drove some 100 miles or more to and from work at the city’s expense.

That’s considering an estimated distance of about 55 miles to Poplarville and 58 miles to Vancleave.

The previous administration cracked down, adopting a policy of a five-mile distance for officers allowed the benefit of taking their patrol cars home, Mayor Mike Smith said.

“They had to rein it in,” Smith said.

“That has to have been a lot of money, considering wear and tear along with fuel.”

Now, the mayor and Board of Aldermen have found that six police vehicles travel outside the city to areas mainly in Diamondhead and Kiln, and outside Hancock County, in Pass Christian and Perkinston.

At least one officer drives 22 miles to his home, and the assistant fire chief, who also has a take-home car, drives 13 miles to his home, Smith said.

‘Worth looking into’

It’s time to look at the policy again, he said. Options could include requiring officers pay a “use tax” that wouldn’t come out of their regular paychecks, or charging a few cents per mile.

“The board may say we’re not going to charge them at all, but it’s certainly worth looking into,” Smith said.

“We’re a small city with a small budget. But we want to be fair.”

Some public works employees have take-home vehicles but they’re on call 24-7, he said.

Smith says he lives less than 2 miles from City Hall and pays $31.25 every two weeks to use his city car.

Take-home vehicles for police are considered a perk for the officers, much like private companies provide some workers with a car. Also, police associations say it’s a public safety benefit to see police cars coming and going and parked in their neighborhoods.

Waveland Police Chief David Allen declined to comment.

Benefit to Gulfport

Take-home cars were a God-send for the Gulfport Police Department on Monday night, Police Chief Leonard Papania said.

Within 20 to 30 minutes of Officer Luis Garcia being seriously injured when his patrol car was struck by a fleeing suspect, off-duty officers with take-home cars came to the scene.

“I had a fresh set of officers to help,” Papania said.

The crash site was shut down for several hours. Extra officers were needed to maintain traffic control while other officers worked on accident reconstruction and crime-scene investigation, he said.

Gulfport allows officers to take their patrol cars home if they live within 25 miles of the police department. They are subject to be called in at any time, Papania said.

The take-home program, at no charge to officers, works for a city the size of Gulfport, he said. A number of officers have additional duties — SWAT, hostage negotiation, accident reconstruction, crime scene. Having separate vehicles allows those team members to keep their gear in their cars without having to load and unload them to turn over their vehicles to another shift, Papania said.

The lack of a take-home car can be a deal-breaker for police in some areas of the nation.

In November, seven police officers quit in Anderson, Indiana, after the city changed its policy to allow take-home cars only for police living in that city, according to policeone.com.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews