Sheriff’s Office completes ‘take home squad’ initiative
After nearly two years of planning, discussion and implementation, late last year the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office completed the deployment of 17 patrol vehicles exclusively assigned to patrol deputies, as part of the agency’s new take-home squad program.
And according to county Finance Director Dan Leydet, the program has come at minimal expense to county tax payers.
“The sheriff’s office take-home squad program has had virtually no impact on the county budget or significant increase to the sheriff’s office budget,” Leydet said. “The patrol squad replacement budget is at the same level as it was prior to the take-home program, which is around $120,000 annually. The true impact will be known once the program is up and running for several more years, because the true fiscal impact for the outlay budget will be determined by the new vehicle replacement schedule, which is not known at this time. It is not known because the program is new and the take-home vehicles have not yet had to be turned over.”
While new to Lincoln County, according to Sheriff Jeff Jaeger; the concept is anything but new to agencies statewide, or neighboring agencies for that matter.
In a recent query by Jaeger to all sheriff’s offices north of Highway 10, polling those who have yet to initiate a similar program, Jaeger received zero responses.
“Having patrol deputies assigned a patrol vehicle has become a standard for agencies across the board, both in the state of Wisconsin and abroad,” Jaeger explains. “When my career began nearly 40 years ago, it would have been a major perk to be assigned my own squad. It would have been a pretty big deal..this sort of thing was just unheard of back then, but now that’s changed. Now when we recruit, it’s become an expectation by incoming deputies to be assigned a vehicle to take home.”
Of other neighboring agencies, perhaps one of the longest running take-home squad programs is that of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office, which was first implemented in 1996.
Currently Marathon County has deployed 68 vehicles to sworn personnel, 43 of which are patrol deputies.
Recruiting in fact was one of a few key motivating factors for Jaeger’s administration initiating the program in early 2016.
“We had done a lot of research and had lengthy discussions with other agencies well before we decided to move forward,” he said. “All the information we found leaned toward a take-home squad program being beneficial to us not only from a recruitment perspective, but also in terms of fleet maintenance, minimizing response times and providing an additional deterrent to criminal activity. Marked patrol vehicles are already a deterrent when on patrol, but now when you have squads parked in neighborhoods and residential areas on a regular basis, there is a high probability anyone considering engaging in criminal activity would avoid those areas.
“From a recruitment standpoint, we compete with local agencies and other sheriff’s offices for qualified candidates and many of these agencies offer salary and benefits which exceed what we can offer. For example, the Merrill Police Department pays their new officers roughly $13,000 more per year than we are able to pay our new deputies, and due to budgetary restrictions, I don’t foresee that changing any time soon. That’s awfully hard to compete with. But having a take-home squad program gives us something to work with for a recruitment incentive
In addition, by assigning deputies a vehicle to take home also minimizes response times.
Currently, of the 20 patrol deputies employed by the Sheriff’s Office, 17 have been assigned take-home vehicles. Two deputies live outside of the county and another has opted to not take a vehicle home.
The 17 deputies reside throughout the county, including the Harrison, Irma and Tomahawk areas. Prior to being assigned take-home vehicles, deputies were required to commute from home to the sheriff’s office, pick up their assigned vehicle and begin their shift. The same would apply in critical situations where deputies or SRT (Special Response Team) members are called upon for urgent response.
For example, if a critical incident were to occur north of Tomahawk or Harrison, the very minimal time frame for an off-duty deputy to respond could be as long an hour, even for deputies who happen to live nearby. However by now having patrol vehicles assigned, deputies can respond much quicker, according to Chief Deputy Nate Walrath.
“We have deputies with assigned vehicles all over the county who now have the ability to respond in a matter of minutes,” he adds. “Rather than having to spend critical minutes commuting to the sheriff’s office to get a vehicle before responding. In a critical situation, every minute is crucial.”
Captain Sean McCarthy of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office is in agreement.
“Even after 22 years of having the program in place, we continue to enjoy considerable benefit by having our deputies, investigators and department administration assigned vehicles to take home. By far the most impactful, is the ability for our deputies to save considerable time by responding to incidents directly from their homes rather than having to drive to the sheriff’s office (downtown Wausau) to get a vehicle first.” he explains.
“I could list numerous instances over the years where deputies were able to respond within minutes to critical incidents.The most recent to come to mind is the active shooter incident in the Village of Weston in March of 2017. We called in off-duty personnel who responded immediately from home. If they did not have take-home vehicles and had to respond to the office first to get a vehicle, we could have been looking at much different results that day.
“We have had weather-related incidents, large accidents as other examples, in different areas around the county. But regardless of where these incidents happened, deputies were able to respond immediately due to being able to simply jump in their vehicle and get to where they are needed.”
Following nearly a year’s worth of planning and discussion, the initiative got underway in 2016, with the first step being retention of patrol vehicles that would normally have been rotated out of service.
“Each year we budget for the purchase of four new patrol vehicles to replace those we rotate out of service due to wear and tear,” Walrath explains. “In 2016, we did not rotate any vehicles out but purchased our usual four new vehicles at our budgeted amount of $120,000 per year. In 2017 we did not rotate any vehicles out and purchased three additional vehicles. Occasionally we must budget higher as vehicle prices increase, so this year we budgeted $130,000 as well as next year. By having one vehicle used by one deputy, rather than two or three deputies constantly running the same vehicle, it definitely reduces wear and tear and results in lower maintenance demand.”
Prior to the initiation of the take home squad program, vehicle oil changes were performed every two weeks on average due to the considerable mileage each vehicle accumulates, which Walrath estimates to have been approximately 75,000 miles per year. As confirmed by Leydet, such wear and tear on vehicles had led to the average service life of each Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle to be around two years. However, with the implementation of the take-home squad program, oil changes are now required less often.
“At an average of 21,600-28000 miles per year based on past experience, we are looking at between five and seven years of service from a squad , a considerable increase in service life of our vehicles,” Jaeger said.