November 21, 2008
STATE POLICE USE OF VEHICLES WHEN OFF DUTY
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You want to know how many state police officers have assigned agency vehicles and what standards govern their use. You also want to know the outcomes of any cases, if any, in which relatives were injured riding in assigned vehicles being driven by off-duty officers.
There are currently 1,226 sworn state police officers who have been assigned agency vehicles, according to the State Police. (This does not include 64 state police trainees to whom vehicles will be assigned when they graduate.)
Off-duty vehicle use is governed by State Police policy and by a collective bargaining agreement (NP-1), which references the public safety commissioner's rules, orders, and regulations governing off-duty vehicle use.
Officers must operate their vehicles safely and provide contact information if they will be out of radio contact for more than two hours. They cannot operate the vehicles while (1) their driving ability is impaired; (2) working on private jobs; (3) on vacation for more than one day, except with written permission; (4) engaged in political activities; (5) their right to operate the vehicle is restricted because of a disciplinary action; or (5) outside of certain geographical limits without permission.
Currently, in an attempt to reduce fuel consumption, the agency (1) has prohibited off-duty, out-of-state travel and (2) allows officers to fuel assigned vehicles only during working hours.
We were unable to find any information on cases involving injury to relatives in assigned vehicles being driven by off-duty state police officers. According to the agency's legislative liaison, the agency's insurer says “there have been a few cases in recent years.” But “the number of such occurrences is exceedingly small”. . .and “no database for such information exists.”
OFF-DUTY USE OF STATE POLICE VEHICLES
The use of assigned vehicles by off-duty state police officers is governed by department policy, which is outlined in the State Police administrative and operations manual. The state police union contract applies to unionized officers. It references the commissioner's rules, orders, and regulations governing off-duty vehicle use.
RATIONALE FOR OFF-DUTY USE OF VEHICLES
According to the policy, the rationale for allowing off-duty use of department vehicles is to (1) permit rapid mobilization of department resources, (2) augment the number of on-duty troopers, (3) shorten serious incident response times, and (4) increase police presence on highways.
POLICY GOVERNING OFF-DUTY VEHICLE USE
The policy requires troopers with assigned vehicles to operate them safely. Careless operation is grounds for discipline.
Off-duty officers using assigned vehicles must (1) maintain radio contact with the department at all times or provide a location or telephone number where they can be contacted when they are out of radio contact for more than two hours; (2) restrict passengers to department employees and immediate family or household members, unless otherwise permitted; and (3) require vehicle occupants to wear seat belts. When operating assigned vehicles off duty, officers must take any necessary police action (considering all relevant circumstances, passenger safety, presence or absence of backup troopers) and record all off-duty activities with a troop call for service.
The policy prohibits officers from carrying items that may damage the vehicle, and from operating the vehicle:
1. when their driving ability is impaired (e.g., by drugs or alcohol);
2. when their right to such use is restricted because of a disciplinary action;
3. when on vacation for more than one day, unless they get written permission from an authorized person and, if needed, must buy gasoline at their own expense;
4. for political purposes (“to secure support for, or oppose a candidate, party or issue concerned with a political election”);
5. for employment (except employment directly benefitting or paid for by the state); or
6. while engaged as volunteer firemen or emergency medical technicians (EMT) or when conducting business for any entity that conducts EMT or volunteer firefighting activities.
The policy prohibits troopers from routinely operating state vehicles while off duty because of illness or injury without approval from a commander, except for medical or official reasons.
OUT-OF-STATE VEHICLE USE
Off-duty troopers can use their vehicles out-of-state under limited circumstances. They must sign out in the troop out-of-state travel log and operate within specified geographical limits. Off-duty travel beyond the specified boundaries is permitted only if the trooper is required to operate the vehicle on official business or gets prior approval from the commissioner or deputy commissioner.