AUGUSTA – The Maine State Police, whose troopers are expected to burn as much as a million gallons of gasoline this year, did not budget for such high prices at the pumps. Like other officers throughout Maine, state troopers are having to plan their outings better and scrimp wherever they can to stretch available funds.
“We had planned on $1.90 a gallon and we have all seen what has happened to the price,” said Police Chief Col. Craig Poulin. MaineGasPrices.com listed the average price of unleaded gas statewide on Tuesday at $2.345 per gallon.
Poulin said troopers fill up their cruisers at state fuel facilities whenever they can, utilizing the gasoline bought at discounted bulk prices by the state. But even the bulk prices are higher now than what was budgeted weeks in advance of the fiscal year that started July 1. And, in some areas of the state, troopers have to use credit cards to purchase fuel from retail outlets.
“We have got to do the best job we can within our resources,” he said. “I have asked we come up with a plan to reduce costs by five percent to help to offset the increases.”
Poulin said better daily trip planning by individual troopers will help meet that goal. He said there will always be unforeseen emergencies that ruin planned activities, but he is sure better planning will save.
The chief said he wasn’t about to suggest that his men park their cruisers for extended periods, which he recalled being ordered to do when he was a young trooper in 1979 and the country was in the midst of an oil shortage.
Troopers were told at that time to park their cruisers after they hit the 100-mile mark each day, Poulin said. He is convinced law enforcement greatly suffered from that order and he would oppose such a move today.
“We have to be out there,” he said. “Being visible is an essential part of law enforcement.”
Jerry Hinton, Brunswick police chief and president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said local police departments statewide are hurting from higher gasoline prices. He doubts the “park the cruiser” option is realistic today because of the change in technology.
Hinton said many larger police departments in the state have added computers to their police cars and that means keeping the vehicles warm in winter and cool in the summer, which uses additional gasoline. He said chiefs have discussed the perception many in the public have that police are “wasting gas” when they leave their vehicles idling.
“I have had members of the public ask me why we are wasting petroleum, and I am happy to explain why we have to do what can appear to be wasteful.”
Hinton said in addition to better planning of patrol efforts some departments are substituting bicycle patrols for patrol cars where possible.
“We do it and I know some other departments do it as well,” he said. “It can make for better community policing.”
He said the cost of gasoline was a major topic at the annual meeting of police chiefs last month. Hinton said all are worried about the impact of rising prices on their budgets and ability to patrol their communities.
“My office is a hundred miles from my house,” said Aroostook County Sheriff James Madore. “We have a lot of area to patrol in The County.”
He said deputies are told they should not cut back on patrols that are necessary and that they need to be visible, but deputies are asked to plan their trips to be as fuel efficient as possible. He acknowledged, however, that any emergency can undo those plans and eat up any savings in a hurry.
“You have to weigh the public safety aspect,” Madore said. “You have to be visible and that costs. I just think you have to be out there and we have to find a way to pay for it.”
Most police agencies are using the V-8 powered Ford Crown Victoria police interceptor model. Some are using more fuel-efficient models like the Chevrolet Impala or a V-6 sports utility vehicle, but Poulin said what is saved in mileage by the smaller vehicles is being offset by higher maintenance costs.
“We do have a hybrid,” he said, “but that’s not for patrol work. It has its applications, but not out on patrol.”
All agreed that if gasoline prices continue to rise, they may not be able to absorb the increased costs through efficiency efforts.
“When I hear talk of $3 a gallon, well, I sure hope it does not get that high,” Poulin said. “And not just for the state police. A lot of people in Maine will be hurting if it gets that high.”