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Law enforcement faces challenges in getting vehicles, supplies

The Jamestown City Council approved a purchase of a 2021 Dodge Durango for more than $50,400 for the Police Department.

police chief car impala.jpg
The Jamestown Police Department's gold 2011 Chevrolet Impala will be replaced with a 2021 Dodge Durango after the Jamestown City Council approved the purchase on Monday, March 7.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

JAMESTOWN – Supply-chain issues are forcing the Jamestown Police Department and Stutsman County Sheriff's Office to plan ahead to find vehicles, equipment and other supplies.

The Jamestown Police Department has been having difficulty finding patrol vehicles, said Scott Edinger, Jamestown chief of police.

“They are just not available,” he said. “We tried ordering, we did get some of the cars we ordered lately but we weren’t able to replace an unmarked car with a patrol vehicle, one that is designed for police work.”

The jamestown City Council approved a purchase of a 2021 Dodge Durango for more than $50,400 Monday, March 7, for the Police Department that will replace a 2011 Chevrolet Impala. Edinger told the City Council Monday that the purchase price is a little bit high but it was already upfitted with lighting, radios, a center console and other equipment.

The trade-in amount for the Impala will also go toward the purchase of the Durango. Edinger said the Police Department recently traded in a 2011 Chevrolet pickup that needed repairs to the 4-wheel drive, front end and electrical system.

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“We got a bid of $18,200,” he said. “So I would imagine we are probably going to get a pretty good bid on this car. We’ve been nursing the transmission for a number of years.”

Edinger said it will be difficult to replace up to four vehicles next year. He said there are two larger dealerships that generally have hundreds of vehicles but are now down to tens.

“I’m not sure what we are going to do with this at that time,” he said.

He said changes to state law a couple legislative sessions ago meant the department had to start budgeting for vehicles about 18 months before it planned to purchase them. He said the department has to estimate a higher amount for the vehicles because the cost of them is unknown 18 months later with inflation factored in.

“Then when we do have the final budget, a lot of that stuff actually comes down from where the estimated tax statements are,” he said.

He said an estimated tax statement goes out to city and county residents on what the proposed city and county budgets are in August every year.

Edinger said the department has to determine which vehicles are cheaper. He said the department could get one quote from a dealership that is, for example, $3,000 less than another but that could end up being more expensive once all other equipment is purchased separately and installed.

“We have to look at a whole lot of factors to determine which one is actually cheaper,” he said.

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Edinger said almost all vehicles have gone up about $10,000 since the coronavirus pandemic. He said many of the government fleet discounts have gone away as well.

“It can be anywhere from $500 to maybe $3,000 or $4,000 depending on the make, model and year. And those discounts are all but gone,” he said. “Between just the markup now since COVID plus those discounts going away and then the rarity of the vehicles, it’s gotten really expensive.”

Coupled with the price increase on vehicles, orders for vehicles also get canceled by the manufacturer without notifying the department. Edinger said the department has to check constantly to make sure the orders for the vehicles are still in and that the department will still get them.

He said a vehicle that was preordered for 2023 might not show up until 2025. He said the department bid on a couple of vehicles so it could have them on hand in case of an accident or another vehicle had to have major repairs.

“What happened was an order got canceled, and we don’t know when that got canceled because by the time we checked on it because we were supposed to have gotten it, but we haven’t heard,” he said. “Then we found out that the order was canceled. Now we have to reorder and now it is taking longer to get them and now we end up being almost a year out.”

He said a Chevrolet pickup that was ordered came in really fast, but when the department received a quote for a Chevrolet Tahoe, it was told it would be a 2023 model.

“And that was several months ago (in October),” he said.

Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser said the Stutsman County Commission approved purchases of two vehicles, which are not prepackaged with law enforcement equipment, last fall and hopes the Sheriff’s Office receives them by the end of April.

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“There is a lot of preplanning that we have to do now,” he said. “Ordering police package vehicles, although we have three of those, those are harder (to find).”

He said vehicles in general are difficult to get as well as some equipment that goes in or on them.

“Some stuff you can get right away but some of it again you have to preplan and get your order well ahead of time,” he said. “You know if you are going to be needing a vehicle or replacing that equipment you have to order it well in advance to have it here in time.”

Kaiser said the trade-in value has been good for the county vehicles. If another agency in Stutsman County needs a vehicle, the Sheriff’s Office gives the vehicle to the other agency.

Issues with using older vehicles

Edinger said the issue when police departments have to use older vehicles is increased maintenance costs. He said all patrol vehicles have a 100,000-mile warranty on them.

“So if we go over 100,000 miles and an engine goes out, there is a $10,000 bill,” he said. “And it’s not as though you can keep running it another 10,000 miles because now we are going to start getting into CV joints and more common issues replacing brakes for another period of time, bearings, electrical issues, cooling system issues. It ends up being a huge expense, and we are only getting a little benefit out of it.”

He said vehicles for law enforcement are driven a different way. He also said there have been more pursuits in the last 10 to 12 years.

“So with that increase, that’s more wear and tear,” he said. “The harder the weather is, the more wear and tear there is. We are running a lot of electronics in these cars now.”

He also said vehicles must remain running so officers do not get signed out of programs, which takes 10 minutes to get back into them.

“You can’t always shut them off,” Edinger said. “If you ever tried to start up your laptop when it is 20 below zero it doesn’t start up.”

He said there are computer programs that can keep officers logged into the programs but that costs money too.

“We are always evaluating things to determine what’s the cheapest and most efficient way to deal with the issues we are running on all the time," Edinger said. “Now with fuel prices going up, it makes that computer program seem much more economical but I guarantee that the company that administrates that program understands too that it’s worth more so they jack up the price.”

Difficulty getting other supplies

Edinger said the Police Department has been having trouble getting rubber gloves, more reliable computers and even ammunition.

“Ammunition has been just brutal to get and the cost has been increasing at a double-digit percentage rate every year,” he said. "Training, when everything goes up, food goes up, gas goes up, motel rooms go up. So our training has gotten more expensive. We try so hard to keep costs down but you are fighting against everything that is involved in inflation.”

Kaiser said it has been difficult to find ammunition as well and taking longer to get. The price has increased for it, too, he said.

“We are probably getting used to waiting now,” he said. “Nowadays we are getting used to ordering ahead of time and getting used to the wait.”

Edinger said another issue with finding vehicles and other items is the hours it takes to find a better price. He said he spent at least 40 hours trying to find a suitable unmarked patrol vehicle.

“The supply chain issues are really frustrating right now,” he said. “I think people are seeing that everywhere we go.”

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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