High-mileage Illinois State Police cars slow response, cost millions

Monday, January 16, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- High-mileage patrol cars are breaking down, keeping state troopers from responding quickly to accidents and costing millions of dollars annually in repairs, according to the Illinois State Police.

In two incidents last summer, breakdowns prevented troopers from getting to the scene of accidents. In July, a trooper in Champaign County didn't make it to the scene of a fatal car accident because his car broke down. And in August, the patrol car of a trooper near LaSalle broke down on the way to a school bus fire.

The average Illinois State Police car has an average of 122,000 miles on it, about 40,000 miles more than is recommended for state police fleets, according to state police spokesman Master Sgt. Rick Hector. Two-thirds of the fleet has more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, he said.

A state program to replace the fleet every three years has not been funded, and the state budget has not earmarked money for new patrol cars since 2002. Last fiscal year, the Illinois State Police spent nearly $6 million on car repairs.

Two bills in the state legislature may offer solutions.

A bill drafted by Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, proposes adding a $10 fee to fines for traffic violators who choose court supervision. If the bill becomes law, it would generate nearly $8 million for state police vehicles, Sacia said.

Sacia said his research showed about eight transmissions and four engines go bad each month, at a cost of $2,000 per transmission and $4,000 per engine. The Illinois Department of Central Management Services could not confirm Sacia's numbers.

A second bill being sponsored by Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, would add $5 to speeding tickets with money going into a fund for state police vehicles.

Buddy Parker, president of Illinois Troopers Lodge 41 of the Fraternal Order of Police, said lawmakers need to act to keep troopers safe.

"We support any legislative initiative that will fund and provide a steady stream of revenue so that we can replace these cars before they get into such a condition that might jeopardize the safety of our officers or the public that we serve," Parker said.

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