- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2000

The Metropolitan Police Department has mismanaged a $3.5 million contract intended to lower the costs of maintaining its fleet of vehicles, spending more than $880,000 over budget.

The budget overrun consumed funds for repairing older police vehicles and for putting into service new vehicles in need of striping, light bars and radios.

In November, the Police Department contracted with Serco to repair its vehicles for $3.5 million, but the car maintenance company billed the police force $4.4 million through the end of the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

"It was not managed right, and priorities were not set. It wasn't done," Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey told The Washington Times. "It was a poorly written contract. I didn't realize how bad it was until we were halfway through the year."

Chief Ramsey said fleet managers did not monitor the work being done by Serco, which racked up unnecessary charges in fixing minor dents in a like-new fashion instead of repairing only major body damage.

"The rate [at which] police officers ding up cars, you could go through a lot of money quick if you try and fix them all," Chief Ramsey said.

Serco Manager Dave Tetreault said he could not comment on the contract or its cost overrun.

The Police Department had used city workers and uniformed officers to repair vehicles before seeking to save money and put its officers back on the street under the Serco contract.

But officers still work for fleet maintenance, and city workers still ferry cars from police stations around the city and do minor repairs under the Serco contract.

"We have to fix the problems. We have a clear understanding [that] failure is not an option," said Brender Gregory, who was hired as the Police Department's director of business services a month ago.

Miss Gregory said the budget for vehicle maintenance was $389,600 for body and major repairs, but the department actually spent $1,152,592 for body work that included unnecessary, minor repairs a 295 percent cost overrun.

The budget for normal maintenance was $3,140,366, but the department spent $3,261,757 a 3.8 percent cost overrun.

Miss Gregory said fleet managers need to be better trained and evaluated so they can do their jobs properly and prevent cost overruns.

No one has been suspended for mismanaging the maintenance contract, she said.

Claude Willis became fleet manager about a year ago, when former manager Robert Rose was placed on paid suspension after the department discovered that some new police cars were being put into service without being inspected by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Mr. Willis did not return calls seeking comment. Mr. Rose, who would not comment, has returned to work in the department's property division.

In addition to its increased maintenance costs, the fleet services division has fallen behind in getting new police cars ready for the streets. About 100 licensed police cars are in storage awaiting decals, light bars and radios.

Since mid-August, 33 of those new cars each a white $24,000, 2000 Ford Crown Victoria outfitted with spotlights have sat in an unsecured field behind the Police Academy in Southwest with grass growing up to their axles.

City sources said the cars have been parked there for about a month while some officers are still using police cruisers that are more than 5 years old.

"We never had new cars sitting around a month in a field. The snakes have probably taken them them over," a department source told The Times.

Because of dwindling funds brought on by the cost overruns, Miss Gregory said, Serco had to cut back on the number of its mechanics, who could only get about 10 cars ready each week. She said that since the new fiscal year began Oct. 1, she has more money to pay Serco to get about 25 cars ready each week.

Chief Ramsey said the new cars will be assigned to officers who live in the city and take home a marked patrol car.

The department has 108 officers who take home police cars and are now driving the oldest cars in the department's fleet.

Police officers have told The Times that their cars often languish at the garage for days when they are brought in for service as basic as an oil change.

Mechanics often find other problems with cars brought in for basic service or repeat repairs on recurring problems, keeping the cars in the service bays longer, the officers said.

Before the Serco contract, city mechanics made simple repairs while officers waited at the garage, the officers said, adding that an oil change now takes at least 24 hours.

Miss Gregory said the officers may be mistaken because in the past, police mechanics would perform oil changes only and would get the cars out of the service bays more quickly.

She said oil changes should take about four hours and annual preventive maintenance could take a day.

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