Miranda Escobar

The New Haven Police Department’s patrol fleet has received a long-awaited upgrade, with 16 new Dodge Chargers slated to go into use in the next few weeks.

The addition will help revive a fleet that has long needed improvements. Earlier this year, the New Haven Police Union filed a complaint with the state labor department, alleging that the patrol cars were unsafe for use, according to the New Haven Independent.

Many of the current patrol cars are in “deplorable condition,” suffering from the wear and tear that comes with being driven during back-to-back eight-hour shifts every day, NHPD spokesman David Hartman said.

“These new cars will instantly become a vital part of the equipment deployed all day long and all night to help men and women of the New Haven Police Department keep this city safe,” Mayor Toni Harp said at a press conference outside the NHPD maintenance facility on Friday.

Thirteen of the new cars arrived two weeks ago, with three more on the way.

These 16 cars will be assigned to the uniformed patrol division, according to Hartman. They will replace current patrol cars that will be reassigned to less demanding tasks such as administrative and detective work.

“They’re a very ugly, dirty environment to work in. For a patrol officer, that’s their office,” he said, adding that with the new cars, “Morale should definitely improve, and we have the pledge of the city administration to get more new cars. There’s no reason a police car should be on the road with over 140,000 miles on it.”

The new cars, now parked in the department’s garage, still need to be outfitted with special features before they become police cruisers. According to Hartman, the customization of these cars — which includes adding electronics, radios, audio components, computers, prisoner dividers and graphics — will be a lengthy process spanning the next few weeks. The additions will be made by the NHPD’s maintenance facility staff, which is also responsible for maintaining the current patrol cars. Hartman noted that the size of the staff has diminished over the past few years.

The additional cruisers will join a police fleet of 349 vehicles, which includes about 130 patrol, detective, laboratory, forensic, Police Academy as well as traffic and patrol support vehicles, according to a Friday NHPD press release. The department also employs a range of specialized vans, SUVs and trucks, which are assigned to the bomb squad, SWAT, underwater search and recovery, hostage negotiation, canine and command and control field operations.

For Chief Administrative Officer Mike Carter, the new patrol cars are not only a necessary upgrade, but also reflect careful financial planning by the city. He said the cars are a part of a five-year capital planning process that began last year.

“The police union identified the need for vehicles to be replaced last year, but the amount of funding at the time was not sufficient,” Carter said.

Over the course of the year, Harp worked with Interim Police Chief Anthony Campbell to increase the police fleet’s budget from $300,000 to $450,000, Carter said. Once that allocation was approved on July 1, Campbell and Tim Hatch, the NHPD fleet supervisor, placed an order for the new cars in early August.

“Because we’re in a better financial position than three years ago, we could set aside more money not only for the police, but all departments,” Carter said.

Carter added that City Hall is hoping to implement a regular replacement plan for the police cruisers, which would entail replacing a certain number of vehicles every three to four years. He said that any repairs would not come out of the police budget, but would rather be covered by the terms of each car’s three-year warranty.

The new cruisers will be deployed in batches, with the first hitting the streets next Friday. And even more may soon be added. On Thursday, the Board of Alders Finance Committee approved the master lease, which includes a proposal for additional vehicles that could arrive as soon as February. This order would include six police cars, two vehicles for building inspections and a snow truck.

The proposal will be brought to the full Board of Alders for approval at their upcoming November meeting.