ST. PETERSBURG — Police Chief Chuck Harmon has said for weeks that he could not produce numbers detailing the cost of the department's take-home car program, causing a backlash from several City Council members.
But at Thursday's council meeting, Harmon said it costs the city roughly $400,000 per year in gas for the 226 officers who live outside of the city to drive their patrol cars home.
This perk accounts for about 16 percent of the department's total annual fuel costs.
Last week Harmon said tracking the costs would be too much work for the department, but he said Thursday his staff was able to compile the fuel data Wednesday afternoon after he learned the program would be on the council's agenda.
"The whole reason that I was so persistent on this was because — what's the cost?" council member Leslie Curran said. "We were told we couldn't determine that, and that's not true."
Harmon said he had told them he couldn't provide the information because he thought the council wanted the cost of the entire take-home program, which would include costs like maintenance and other factors. That, he said, he still can't provide.
Harmon also told the Times that he could not compile the fuel costs for out-of-city officers.
Having out-of-city officers take home cars is helpful for officer retention, Harmon said. He said the annual time saved by officers not having to check out a patrol car each day is equivalent to having 15.9 additional police officers.
"I think we're pretty close to what our industry standards would be," Harmon said.
Though frustrated the cost figures weren't available sooner, several council members were happy that the program seemed to be beneficial.
"This is a good deal for our city," council Chairman Karl Nurse said.
The program previously required officers to live within the county to be eligible for a take-home car. In 2010, Mayor Bill Foster expanded the program to allow officers to commute up to 40 miles.
Council member Wengay Newton said he is still concerned that the department does not do enough to make sure officers don't abuse the perk by using the car on personal time.
The council approved a motion to further discuss abuse of the take-home car privilege in committee.