More Money, Same Level of Service

Photo Credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

There are often cries of anguish or outrage on this blog and elsewhere over the increases in spending proposed in budget proposals and then authorized by the General Assembly. Some of this criticism of increased spending is justified, but, sometimes, the increase is the result of circumstances beyond an agency’s control. Sometimes, stuff just costs more.

Replacing State Police cruisers is a good example of this quandary. For many years, the State Police used the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. When Ford stopped production of that model in 2011, the State Police began using the Ford Taurus Police Interceptor.  (It took me a little while to get used to seeing the State Police in those smaller cars.) Next, Ford discontinued production of the Taurus in 2019. After testing Dodge and Chevrolet vehicles as potential replacements, the State Police selected the Ford Police Interceptor Utility. (This is a modified SUV and it explains why I have been seeing local police driving SUVs, which was a little disconcerting.)

As reported by the Richmond Times Dispatch, the budget problem arises because the SUV is 50% more expensive that the former Taurus Interceptor. According to the State Police, the cost of the Taurus was $25,706 and the cost of the SUV is $38,798. There is an additional cost for all the communication and security equipment that has to be installed in each vehicle. In the past, when an older vehicle was replaced, the agency would transfer the equipment from the old vehicle to the new one. However, the different interior design of the SUV results in “mounting and fitment issues” that prevent the department from using the old equipment in the SUVs. The cost of new equipment is about $7,400. In summary, each new SUV replacement vehicle results in $20,500 additional costs.

The State Police replaces about 350-400 vehicles each year, so this additional cost for the SUVs will add up fast. The Governor’s introduced budget included $9.5 million to cover these additional costs. Both the House and Senate have proposed lower amounts, $7.2 million by the Senate and $7.5 million by the House. (The legislature disagrees with the replacement schedule proposed by the State Police and thus have cut the agency’s request.)

In summary, the Appropriation Act will include approximately $7.5 million in additional funding for the State Police to enable the agency to do what it is doing now.  This additional money will not buy additional trooper positions or additional vehicles. It will do nothing to enhance the ability of the agency to carry out its duties. And it is not a one-time expense. In future years, the State Police will be spending about $7.5 million more each year to replace the same number of vehicles.