Martha Brannigan from the Miami Herald is reporting that eginning Jan. 1, the county police department will no longer provide take-home police cars for officers who live outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The policy change, announced Tuesday in a memo from Police Director James K. Loftus, will affect an estimated 17 police officers, including 10 who live in Palm Beach, four in Monroe and three in Collier counties, according to the police department.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he agrees with the move. “I am going to be supporting the police chief’s action,’’ Gimenez said. “He believes — and we believe — that it’s in the best interest of the department and the community.’’
Loftus couldn’t be reached for comment.
The elimination of the take-home cars for officers living outside Miami-Dade and Broward comes just a week after Dade Police Benevolent Association members voted to approve new union contracts that added a $50 biweekly charge for driving a car home.
The police department estimates that about 2,161 officers who live in Miami-Dade and about 472 who live in Broward had take-home cars as of Aug. 31.
PBA president John Rivera said the unilateral move by the police department is an “unfair labor practice’’ that “violates the [union] contract.’’
Rivera said he and many other members “never would have supported the contract’’ if they knew the policy change was coming.
Rivera, in an email to PBA members, said the union “is preparing the paperwork for legal action against the County,’’ adding: “I can assure you that the PBA had no idea that this was the County’s plan.’’
The controversial move to scale back eligibility for take-home cars comes on the heels of county police agreeing to significant concessions to enable the county to stay within this year’s lean budget.
On Dec. 5, PBA members approved a three-year contract that is estimated to save the county $56 million by cutting certain incentive pay and overtime for court appearances and holidays, while imposing the fees for take-home patrol cars.
The police union and the administration are set to meet Thursday morning in another attempt to resolve an issue that went to impasse in the contract talks: whether officers should have to contribute an additional 5 percent of their pay for health-care coverage, making a total contribution of 10 percent.
That issue is set to be discussed Monday by the Miami-Dade Commission, which has the authority to settle the impasse.
It isn’t clear whether the take-home car issue will come up at Thursday’s impasse talks. “It’s not supposed to, but I’d be shocked if it weren’t brought up by [the PBA],’’ said Genaro “Chip’’ Iglesias, a Miami-Dade deputy mayor and chief of staff.
Rivera, however, said he doesn’t expect the issue to come up at that previously scheduled session. “It’s a separate issue,’’ he said, adding in an email: “I do not expect to discuss it any more other than at arbitration.’’
Supporters of take-home cars typically argue that they are benefit the community, keeping neighborhoods safer by giving high visibility to patrol cars. The practice also saves local governments the cost of having to store the vehicles, and can lower maintenance costs because the cars are not in service for all shifts so rack up less mileage.
But as local governments grapple with declining revenue, opponents argue the gasoline, wear and tear and other costs of cars going to and from work — especially long distances — simply costs too much. Plus, the department’s fleet must be larger.
Miami Herald staff writer Diana Moskovitz contributed to this report.