City police set take-home policy

Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Eighty-two-year-old Lassie Potts sits on her bed just feet from where a car crashed into her home in Van Bibber Lake Estates over the weekend.

A first-of-its-kind policy governing Greencastle police officers who drive their patrol cars during off-duty hours was adopted unanimously by the Board of Works last week.

Until now, the department didn't have a policy and officers were not supposed to drive their patrol cars unless they were on duty, Police Chief Tom Sutherlin said.

The policy was created to let officers know what the department expects of them if they drive their patrol cars while off duty, Sutherlin explained. Also it provides legal protection for the department in the event that an officer is negligent and has an accident.

Mayor Nancy Michael, who joins Thom Morris and Sue Murray on the Board of Works, added her support for the plan, saying it makes the police department more competitive with other agencies in the state that already allow their police officers to drive their patrol cars while off duty.

"This is an issue that I know we have talked about for at least the last eight years," Michael said.

Sutherlin said he modeled the policy after those from several nearby agencies, including the Putnam County Sheriff's Department, Cloverdale Police and Plainfield Police.

In addressing the board on Wednesday, Sutherlin said it would take several months of him observing the plan to determine if it is going to be financially feasible for the city -- namely for gasoline costs -- to allow his officers to drive their cars while off duty.

Currently, officers are supposed to park their cars at home and not drive them if they are not on duty, Sutherlin said. A majority of officers on the force take their vehicles home with them when they're not on duty.

On Wednesday, board members approved the new policy with the caveat that the police chief would revisit the policy in three to six months depending on fuel costs.

Sutherlin told the board that he could either leave the policy the same, amend it further or do away with it altogether, depending on his and the board's decision at the end of the trial period.

Sutherlin said he did not use all of his gasoline budget last year.

"We would like to see what the impact's gonna be," Michael said.

Section "C" of the policy identifies where officers are allowed to drive their vehicles off duty and how they are to conduct themselves while driving.

Officers are allowed to drive their cars off duty inside Putnam County and the adjacent counties only. They are also required to obey all traffic laws and are prohibited from consuming any substances that would impair their driving while operating their police vehicles.

Only the police officers themselves are allowed to drive their vehicles and they are not allowed to transport any materials of a personal nature, such as alcohol, animals, or other conspicuous items, except in the performance of their duties as a police officer.

The policy reads, "At all times, the use of the police department owned/leased vehicle will be consistent with the high standards of the city of Greencastle, and nothing will be done with, or in, the vehicle that would in any way adversely affect the image or reputation of the city or the police department."

Section "E" of the policy deals with calls for service and passengers.

Officers are required to allow their passengers -- who are defined in the plan as family members only -- to exit the vehicle in the event of an emergency call. They cannot respond to an emergency call unless they have allowed their passengers to exit the vehicle first.

After Wednesday's vote was taken, Sutherlin said the vehicle take home plan helps to increase police presence in the community in order to deter illegal activity.

It also improves response times for officers because they won't have to go home or to the station to pick up their police vehicles before responding to an emergency, the policy states.

The new policy takes effect immediately.

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