Howard County police will require all department employees who drive county-operated cars to reduce fuel use by 5 percent, the department announced last week.
The "mandatory conservation measures" were to go into effect Friday, according to the department. The reductions are expected because vehicles will be used less during off-duty hours, and drivers are expected to be more fuel-conscious.
"Reducing our use of fuel is the responsibility of all members who operate a county vehicle," Police Chief William J. McMahon said in a statement. "Of course, this mandate is not intended to impact the performance of employees' assigned duties."
The announcement comes on the heels of a countywide restriction on take-home vehicles. Starting Sept. 1, the county will take away 119 take-home employee cars. That move is expected to save more than a half-million dollars in vehicle costs.
In the Police Department, officers who drive shared patrol cars will be expected to limit idling time, avoid unnecessary driving and improve driving behaviors while using the cars during nonemergencies.
"Service to our citizens is our absolute priority," McMahon said in the statement. "In no way will we allow these cost-cutting measures to negatively impact service."
In order to measure the fuel reductions, each employee was given a three-month average of their gas use and instructed to decrease it by 5 percent. The gas will be measured Sept. 1 and the first of every month subsequently.
Employees who do not meet the goal will be required to explain why.
Some employees who live outside the county will also not be allowed to take cars home. For on-call assignments, those employees will be paid the standard mileage rate for the distance between their homes and the police cars. Limitations will be placed on assigning cars to employees who live outside the county, and new restrictions will be placed on car use for police supervisors, including sergeants and lieutenants.
The conservation mandate came as "no great surprise," said Dan Besseck, president of the Howard County Police Officers' Association. He doesn't predict that the change will compromise the quality of police work.
"We went through this in the '90s, and they were a lot more severe than they were now," Besseck said. "You just have to adjust what you do. I think the efforts are reasonable at this point."