2020 will likely go down as a year unlike any other, for many reasons. Civil unrest and COVID-19 are two major challenges that directly impact law enforcement agencies across the country. Police officers and the agencies they serve are responsible for working with government and public health officials to contain the spread, serve the local community, and maintain public order.

Police Chiefs and Fleet Managers will likely have to deal with altered or reduced budgets in 2021. Some large departments, such as the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), could see $150 million removed from their budget. Therefore, they are looking at possibly dissolving some specialized units, such as their Sexual Assault Unit and Animal Cruelty Task Force. Other departments will have to make similar, difficult decisions as cuts could be coming across the board.
One area where agencies cannot afford to stop spending is on vehicle purchasing and maintenance. Police need vehicles that can quickly respond to calls and perform pursuits. Police vehicles must be as reliable as the officers themselves, but without funds to purchase a whole new fleet of vehicles, many departments may have to look for alternatives to keep fresh vehicles on the street. Government Leasing Consultants Bob Crowe and Joanne Cornier have several decades of experience meeting the fleet needs of agencies on local, state, and federal levels. They have kindly offered their insight into the field of government vehicle leasing. Below are five things to consider when leasing police vehicles.

1. Affordability: More vehicles now. For the price of purchasing a few vehicles and outfitting them with all the bells and whistles, many more could be leased. Four vehicles, patrol ready, will likely cost an agency approximately $200,000. For that same price, an agency can lease 12 or more vehicles and pay for them over a term of several years. This will of course allow agencies to stretch their budget from a few new cars to revamping a large portion of the fleet.

2. Flexibility: Getting exactly what you want. Just like purchasing, leasing vehicles comes with all the options you could ask for. Bob and Joanne can help agencies lease vehicles from local retailers, as well as use local outfitters to install the necessary equipment. This prevents headaches when it comes to maintenance, as the routine will be the same as it is for purchased vehicles. Departments can lease both new and used vehicles, including interceptors for patrol, and unmarked vehicles for undercover and detective work. There is no “one size fits all” approach to Police work, and equipment should be treated the same.

3. Closed-End versus Open-End: Leasing is done one of two ways, and Fleet Managers will have to decide what is best for their needs. A closed-end lease gives the agency the option to purchase or return the vehicle at the end of the lease, but there is a limit on the mileage the vehicle can accrue during the lease period. If this limit is surpassed, the agency will have to pay a fee upon completion of the term. For smaller jurisdictions, this may be a more viable option, or even for unmarked vehicles that will not be on regular patrol duty. In a large jurisdiction, or for departments that rotate vehicles between officers and shifts, it may be difficult to accommodate a mileage limit. An open-end lease does not have a mileage limit; instead, the vehicle must be at or above a certain value upon completion of the term. If the vehicle has depreciated below that value, the difference must be covered by the agency. This means the vehicle must be well-maintained and cared for to keep its value high. As fleet managers know, this may be a tall order for certain officers.

4. Barriers to Entry: Will the budget allow it? While leasing is an affordable alternative to purchasing, it is not always a viable option. Some municipalities, for various reasons, do not permit leasing in their budget, opting to make purchases outright, or do without. When initially allowing vehicle leasing, the budget may need to be restructured due to the vehicle costs being spread over multiple fiscal years. It may take some convincing for certain municipalities, but the end result of several fully equipped vehicles cannot be denied.

5. Safety Benefits: Keeping the best cars on the street. Many officers can recall having to drive “the old” unit. The spare unit with duct tape upholstery, a dashboard lit up light a Christmas parade, and chewed-up seat belts thanks to the K-9 officer borrowing it a few times. Every shift begins with a jump start, and if you are responding to an address at the top of the hill, you have to turn off the air conditioner to make it up there. The parking brake is a must because it is guaranteed to slip out of park and roll away. While it is easy to have a laugh about the rookie having to drive the clunker, it is frankly irresponsible and unsafe to have a vehicle like that in the fleet. Surely there are not any Fleet Managers happy about having these sorts of vehicles around, but it all comes down to cost. Even if the department cannot afford anything else, there should still be a spare vehicle or two around. Naturally, the older vehicles become spares and the new ones are on the street; however, in some places, budget constraints mean the “new” vehicles are in the same shape as the spares because they have not been replaced in years. With the reality of major budget cuts possibly coming in 2021, this will likely become more commonplace. Leasing larger numbers of vehicles, in lieu of purchasing a few, may be the best way to keep new, high-functioning vehicles on the street. A rotating fleet of leased vehicles means nobody gets stuck driving a rolling liability and every vehicle can be relied upon to perform when the major calls come in.

Brendan Rodela has been a patrolman for the Ruidoso (NM) Police Department for over four years. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice as well as certification in Instructor Development.

Bob Crowe and Joanne Cornier are vehicle and equipment leasing executives who have assisted countless federal, state, and local agencies achieve their mission goals while minimizing their fleet costs.