City council approved the purchase of two Ford Interceptors for police last Monday, over some objections by the public.
The vehicles — one an SUV for marked patrol and the other a sedan for the K-9 unit — will replace older models. Funding for both was approved in budget sessions last fall.
Council members fast-tracked the purchase vote on emergency status, allowing the police department to buy the vehicles immediately rather than waiting 30 days.
Moving quickly accommodates the state’s first-come, first-served ordering system, said Oberlin interim police chief Mike McCloskey.
“As the larger agencies put in their requests for vehicles, the smaller orders tend to get put on the back burner,” he said. “We haven’t received a firm cutoff from Ford as of yet, but if we were to order today… we’d still be looking at a fall delivery date.
“The longer we wait, there’s the possibility the delivery could be pushed back into 2018, and our vendor says there’s some questions on the future of the sedan after 2018. There would be a concern about availability there.”
While council was supportive, several people from the community voiced concerns about approving the Interceptor purchases.
Among them was Aliza Weidenbaum. “Given the fact that we are in the process of getting a new police chief, I think the new police chief should get to have a say over this,” she said, adding that the money could be used to “get more impact other ways.”
Others raised concerns about the lack of officers on foot patrol around the city, saying the purchase of new vehicles will only encourage police to stay behind the wheel.
“I would personally like to see more police officers walking on foot or possibly on bicycles, talking with people and getting to know the people,” resident Nancy Finke said. “I certainly don’t want to see us increasing the numbers of vehicles.”
Lisa Kavanaugh, another Oberlin resident, voiced similar concerns about the number of vehicles in the department’s fleet.
“In view of that number, I would not be approving this. Council, you do what you’re going to do, I guess,” she said. “It just seems that if we have nine police vehicles for Oberlin, we’re not that big of a city. Do we really need that many?”
Council president Ronnie Rimbert was quick to answer Kavanaugh’s question.
“I would say yes. I’m not in law enforcement, but I’ve been around some of these things. We’re talking about cars that are running, a lot of times, 24 hours a day,” Rimbert said. “One person gets in; one person gets out. I hear some people talking about, ‘Well, let’s put more people on the street. Let’s put more people on bicycles.’ What happens if someone is out on the Reserve on a bicycle, or they’re at Kendal, and we get an urgent call in the middle of town? Are they supposed to pedal all the way back into town?
“Oberlin is a big area to cover.”
City manager Rob Hillard has been holding listening sessions for the past month to hear what residents want to see in a new police chief. Over and over, people have said they want to know their police officers.
“They want to feel comfortable with them. They want them on the streets with them,” resident Michael Reitz said. “So if those people are going to be considered at all, then I think we have to look at the way we police… I’d be careful about investing a lot of money, right now, because when we get a new chief of police, maybe there will be changes in the way we police this little town.”
Hillard urged council to approve the Interceptor purchase order immediately.
“This is very standard with what I’ve seen over the years. It’s not necessarily about community policing, or how we police, in terms of this particular purchase,” Hillard said. “I agree with what everyone is saying. It’s what we need to do. We need to continue evaluating how we police and how we approach that particular division in the city. However, this particular purchase relates to basically turning out these types of vehicles that get a lot of mileage, get a lot of idling time.
“The bottom line is: I see this as about replacing vehicles and not about how we do policing. I fully support the recommendation, and I fully support the motion made by city council.”
Council unanimously approved the ordinance.
Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter.