The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) is responsible for a collection of 125 vehicles provincially — the majority with capabilities beyond anything you might buy off the lot.
In 2012, the force has picked up 20 new vehicles: four Chevrolet Impalas, eight Dodge Chargers, a pair of Dodge RAM pickups, a pair of GMC Sierras, a Mazda M3S, a Chevrolet Express van, a Chevrolet Tahoe and a GMC Yukon.
Overall, the force’s fleet is a far cry from where it was in the early 2000s, when then-police chief Richard Deering was speaking out about a need for more resources, according to current RNC chief of police Robert Johnston, who spoke with The Telegram Monday.
“In early 2000, when Chief Deering was appointed, there was a budget put in place for vehicles, to purchase new vehicles, and that’s a half million dollars a year.”
“So until his appointment, there was no real … the money really wasn’t identified,” Johnston said. “Now there’s secured funding in place.”
Following on that, from 2003 to 2007, the provincial government increased funding to the police forces in the province.
The Telegram recently obtained detailed information on vehicle acquisitions since 2007, by way of an access to information request. Today, the documents show, more than 100 of the 125 vehicles in the force’s fleet are 2007 model year or newer.
“Our vehicles now are road-worthy, they’re safe for our police officers and they’re safe for the public. But also, they allow us to respond quickly to calls for service,” Johnston said, noting renewal is key.
“They stand up longer, they hold up better and so they require less maintenance.”
Vehicles are supplied through provincial retailers Terra Nova Motors, Royal Garage, Hickman Motors and Avalon Ford.
The cost of the new fleet vehicles varies widely depending on their type and purpose, considering the associated equipment.
For example, at about $14,000 each in 2008, the RNC was able to acquire four, standard-model Ford Focus cars.
Move up to a six-cylinder, “police package” vehicle — such as the eight Dodge Chargers acquired this year — and the cost is about $34,000 apiece.
“Police package” vehicles are regularly developed by car manufacturers as same-name alternatives to their standard cars. So, while the patrol car parked down the block is labelled “Impala,” the police vehicle will likely be far more than the Impala off the lot.
“The electrical system in the vehicle is larger,” explains Johnston. “It has heavy-duty suspension. It has different braking component, cooling system. All those things are required for a police package, because of the demands that are placed upon the vehicle.”
Chargers and Impalas are the most common vehicles in the RNC fleet.
The next step up from the patrol cars would be 4x4 and specialty vehicles.
In 2007, the force added at least nine Ford Expeditions, each running $40,000 to $50,000. Purchases of utility vehicles have been relatively sporadic since, with an average of two per year.
The expense of these vehicles is notable. For example, at $61,000, the single 2012 GMC Yukon purchased this year will cost the government about as much as all four of the Ford Focus cars it picked up in 2008.
The most expensive RNC vehicle bought in the last five years is a GMC special-purpose truck, ordered through Hickman Motors in 2009, which cost $94,708.54.
Yet having committed funding for the RNC fleet is not the same as the force having a blank cheque.
There is a government-led vehicle acquisition committee in place to weigh requests and determine what vehicle types are put to tender, while a civilian fleet manager works with the RNC to monitor vehicle efficacy and deal with companies completing maintenance work.
“He helps us in determining what our needs are and what vehicles to order and tender for,” Johnston said. “Also, what vehicles are requiring the most amount of maintenance and what vehicles need to be taken out of the system because they’re costing us more to keep them on the road.”
Meanwhile, growth in the fleet is also about coverage for RNC jurisdiction outside of St. John’s. Of the 125 RNC road vehicles, 104 are based in the capital, 14 in Corner Brook and seven in Labrador West.
“I’ve been a police officer now for over 33 years. When I joined, we policed just the city of St. John’s and I remember, at that time, going back to 1979, we probably only had in our fleet in total about 25 vehicles. We had no other equipment outside that,” Johnston said.
“Sometimes we’ve had situations in the past where police officers had to double up in a vehicle because there was no vehicle available.”
That, it seems, is no longer the case.
“We’re able to provide a better service to the public by having newer vehicles, specialized vehicles. We’re able to respond more quickly and efficiently as a result of that,” the police chief said.