TAMPA — The Hillsborough sheriff wants his deputies to use less gas, even if that means limiting patrols more tightly to assigned areas and adding to the wait time for low-priority calls.
In a recent memo, Sheriff David Gee listed several ways deputies can cut back, including avoiding idling patrol cars and not running the air conditioning when no one is in them. He also said deputies should patrol only assigned areas unless there is an emergency, and the department will be "stacking," or holding, lower-priority calls until someone assigned to the area can respond.
"These are the minor calls like thefts where the person isn't sure what day the theft took place and where there wouldn't be much physical evidence to the crime in the first place," said Col. Gary Terry, who oversees the department's investigative services.
Terry said the sheriff also is looking into expanding the teleservice division, which takes police reports over the phone so a deputy does not have to be dispatched.
"A lot of the time when people call us to report minor thefts, they say they're only doing it because the insurance company told them to," Terry said. "This in no way affects our priority calls for service."
The Sheriff's Office isn't the only local department struggling with rising fuel prices.
Tampa police officials soon will be issuing a similar memo, said Laura McElroy, a police spokeswoman.
Though specifics are not yet available, McElroy said the memo will encourage officers to be more conservative.
"Just last week we had to go to the City Council to request $500,000 to be added to our fuel budget," she said. "It's the price of doing business these days."
At the Sheriff's Office, deputies are being asked to carpool to conferences and administrative matters, only use low-octane regular fuel, and fill up at stations that offer government discounts.
There are 1,300 vehicles in the department's fleet, and they use 158,000 gallons of gas per month, said Debbie Carter, a sheriff's spokeswoman.
"Right now we can't tell how much we've saved or will save from these measures because we buy our gas in bulk," she said.
The government discount brought the price to $3.51 a gallon this week.
Carter said the calls for reduction will not affect helicopters, prisoner transports or deputies taking home their vehicles.
"Voluntary reduction is the first step to reduce our fuel costs, which amounts to several million dollars a year," Gee wrote in the June 17 memo. "More drastic steps may be required in the future to ensure that we are able to fulfill our highest priorities, however, voluntary assistance from each of you can go a long way to avoid those measures."
Across the bay, no new policies have been enacted.
"There's been no changes" in what they tell deputies, said Cecilia Barreda of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Deputies are asked to use discretion in using their vehicles. Barreda said the department buys gas from a local vendor, not the county.
Some Hillsborough community groups applaud the sheriff's initiative and don't feel it will change service.
"We have really been wracked by smaller crimes in the last six months like vandalism and thefts," said Mark Snellgrove, president of the Carrollwood Civic Association. "We see responses within minutes though."
"The response to Original Carrollwood has been top-notch," Snellgrove said.
Terry said that in his 37 years in the Sheriff's Office he's never seen such suggestions, but it was not unexpected in this economy.
"Do more with less is the mantra we've kind of adopted," Terry said.
Times staff writer Stephanie Garry contributed to this report. Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or [email protected]