Houston’s Police Cars are Falling Apart

“As long as it drives and has airbags and the lights work, it’s in service.”

By Alain StephensSeptember 19, 2016 11:28 am,

Wheels fall off, engines overheat, dead batteries strand officers until they can get a tow back to the police station.

For the thousands of officers at the Houston police department, their offices aren’t in cubicles or at a desk but behind the wheel of a police cruiser.

And those vehicles are in dire need of replacement. Houston’s aging police fleet not only costs the city money but could also affect how well officers can respond to emergencies.

St. John Barned-Smith, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, says about a quarter of the Houston Police Department’s marked fleet are all over 100,000 miles and half of the city’s fleet, both marked and unmarked vehicles, are more than five years old.

“A lot of these cars get used as much as 16 hours a day,” he says. “These cars get driven very quickly or come to quick stops. … A lot of them are just driven a lot harder than you might drive a civilian car.”

Barned-Smith says police cars also spend a lot of time idling, which is hard on the engine. Officers no longer on patrol said it’s not a problem, but current officers said their cars have low standards for use on patrol.

“As long as it drives and has airbags and the lights work, it’s in service,” he says. “They were obviously pretty concerned about it.”

Each car costs about $25,000, Barned-Smith says, before a computer and light bar are installed.

“This is one of those situations where the city is going to have to refurbish them in a really serious way,” he says, “or they’re going to have to double down and buy new cars.”

While Barned-Smith doesn’t have numbers on how many times police cars have died while officers were responding to a call, he says he found incidents in which cars overheated during a chase and a ball joint failed on a car, causing the wheels to fall off.

Post by Hannah McBride.