Nearly $240,000 in new replacement vehicles are coming to the Toms River Police Department's fleet.
Of the 10 purchases recently authorized by the Township Council are five vehicles meant to replace police units damaged during Superstorm Sandy. In total, the department will buy nine 2013 Dodge Chargers and one 2013 Ford Expedition through a state bid at a total cost of $238,835.
Four of the Chargers and the Expedition are replacing units damaged in the storm. Some of the vehicles were totaled by flood waters; in one instance, a tree fell atop a car with an officer inside.
"We're very lucky he didn't get injured," said Chief of Police Michael Mastronardy.
According to the resolution authorizing the purchases, the total cost of the nine Chargers is $210,378, which breaks down to over $23,000 per vehicle; the Expedition costs $28,456.
The department currently maintains a fleet of just over 100 vehicles, with some dating back to model year 1999, Mastronardy said. New vehicles are regularly cycled in; five Chargers were added a few months ago.
"It's a safety issue for the officers out there," Mastronardy said. "But because of preventative maintenance, we're able to keep the cars out there for a long period of time."
It will likely take another $5-6,000 to outfit each Charger with the necessary police equipment, since the department is forced to move on from Ford Crown Victorias — a sedan that is no longer in production. A different interior means items such as plastic seating and caging for the back compartment are no longer compatible.
"All that stuff would fit" from older to newer model Crown Victorias, Mastronardy said. "Now with the Charger, none of the equipment is interchangeable."
It remains unclear how much of the vehicles replacing those damaged during Sandy will be paid for by insurance or FEMA funds, the chief said. An inquiry to the township asking for clarification was not immediately returned.
Assigning vehicles to officers — something that is done in Toms River but not yet by all on the force — helps to keep them in good condition, as the officer becomes accountable for the car in his or her care.
"Ultimately we'd like to get to a position where each vehicle is assigned to an officer," Mastronardy said. "We find in the law enforcement community that leads to much more accountability and people will take care of the vehicle."
It remains "too early to tell" if the Chargers will match up to the Crown Victorias as a police vehicle, according to the chief. Numerous police departments throughout the state, including nearby Manchester and Lakehurst, also have brought in the cars.
"We need some more time to make a real evaluation," Mastronardy said.
But the rear wheel drive featured in the cars — a specification unique to the Charger — should help save on maintenance costs, said police mechanic Bob Jump.
"A front wheel drive car costs us twice as much in maintenance, just to maintain the front suspension and struts and shocks," he said. "No one else is offering a car with rear wheel drive."
While new cars with better gas mileage have helped to reduce fuel consumption, they also present a new challenge — electronic ignition keys.
"Someone could go home with a [key] fob in their pocket and the car's out of service" until it's returned, Mastronardy said.
Plus, Jump said that he has the ability to make copies of police car keys in-house, something that becomes impossible if an electronic key is required to start a car. Replacements keys would have to made outside of the department.
"Now, that would be a dealer cost," Jump said.
"We'll have to evaluate and see what happens," Mastronardy said.
The vehicles being retired from the fleet will be sold at auction, a task that is handled by township business administration personnel, according to the chief.