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Police car's sudden fire underscores sheriff's plea

– For the last few years, Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries has been asking the County Council for more money to replace aging and worn-out vehicles within his department's fleet.

Friday afternoon, a perfect example of one of the dangers some of those vehicles can pose came to fruition:

One caught fire.

Stopped at the light at Clinton Street and East Jefferson Boulevard, a sergeant in an unmarked car suddenly spotted smoke coming from the hood.

And then he noticed flames that came from the engine.

The sergeant was able to pull the car into the Wendy's parking lot at that intersection and, with the help of other police officers who made the scene, extinguish the fire.

But the vehicle – a 2001 Impala with 141,000 miles on it – is likely "toast," the sergeant said.

"This is a prime example why the sheriff asks for money for new vehicles every year," said Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel, spokesman for the sheriff's department.

"Luckily no one was hurt, and luckily (the sergeant) wasn't on an emergency run anywhere."

Last year, Fries asked the County Council for an extra $400,000 in his 2013 budget that would have gone toward getting new vehicles, but he dropped the request as part of a compromise over his department's budget.

He asked for the same amount this year for the 2014 budget, hoping to use it to replace 18 vehicles.

The council instead gave him $200,000 for new vehicles, with the direction that Fries pay for the rest of what he wanted out of his commissary account.

"We try to work together with the sheriff," said County Council President Darren Vogt, R-3rd. "He may want more money than what's usually in the pot, but he gets cars, and we make sure money is set aside the best we can for the budget."

The sheriff's department will soon be getting 17 new cars – 10 will be patrol cars; seven others will go to other divisions.

According to the sheriff's department, a squad car costs $24,000 while an unmarked vehicle typically costs about $23,000.

Those prices, though, don't include the equipment – computer, radio, etc. – that the car must be fitted with, which can add $7,000 or so to the price tag.

"We try to use older equipment from older cars," Tinkel said, referring to ways the department tries to reduce the costs.

Currently, the department has 45 cars, and more than half have more than 100,000 miles.

Rarely are those easy miles in police work, and Tinkel said ideally the department would like to replace cars that make it to the 100,000-mile mark.

Officials know, though, that's not always feasible, Tinkel said.

Still, when Fries asked for the extra money this year, he warned council members that maintenance would not be enough to keep some of these cars performing at a level the officers needed.

"A lot of these cars have extremely high and hard use mileage on them, so even if the maintenance is kept up there will still be issues with the car," Fries wrote. "That is why regular rotation is needed for the fleet."

jeffwiehe@jg.net

Correction

This story has been changed to reflect the correct location of the fire.

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