Process of buying police cars more than just black and white

13 Aug 2003 | Army Staff Sgt. David Bennett

The makeshift parking area could have been mistaken for any used car lot as drivers maneuvered the sedans, vans and sport utility vehicles into their assigned spots.

Lieutenant Col. Ed Johnson, special projects manager for Philadelphia, Pa.-based 304th Public Affairs Brigade, viewed the fleet with apprehension as he departed in a white SUV for a test drive.

"See this power window button," he said, pointing to the door of the SUV. "It doesn't work. If an officer had to get out of this vehicle because of a fire, he couldn't do it. That's the kind of stuff were looking for."

With $2.6 million in seized funds, Johnson and fellow civil affairs reservists are in the market for 200 reliable vehicles to hand over to local police departments that are hamstrung by the lack of reliable transportation. A local car dealer in Baghdad delivered 23 cars to the camp Aug. 12.

At least 20 cars a day will be driven to the camp where Marine mechanics will weed out the clunkers from the keepers.

Johnson and the civil affairs officers want to ensure that vehicles handed over to the police departments aren't going to break down in the middle of an emergency or just on patrol.

"We look at safety issues," he said. "We had a vehicle that was fine if you filled it up halfway. But, if you filled it up all the way, it leaked like a sieve."

To guarantee that the cars, trucks and vans are road worthy, two First Marine Division technicians are giving them a quick, thorough inspection.

"We're making sure the fluids are good, the engines don't overheat and the wheel alignment is right," said Cpl. T.J. Maglio, a Madison, Wis. resident assigned to Truck Company, Headquarters Battalion.

Not only are the vehicles examined for such things as leaks, they can't leave a questionable paper trail either. Any vehicle that doesn't have a clear title is instantly rejected, according to Johnson, a resident of Levitown, Pa.

"We don't want to be given stolen vehicles," he said.

Lieutenant Col. Edward Fullmer, public safety chief with the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade, based in Norristown, Pa., hopes to deliver at least 200 vehicles to local police departments and special police teams in six southern Iraqi provinces before September.

Nevertheless, the need of departments for trusty vehicles far outstrip what coalition forces will be able to provide since many police vehicles were stolen immediately following the war, said Fullmer, who is a police officer in his home of Medina, Pa.

Because a majority of vehicles are failing inspection, Fullmer stressed that a large supply of vehicles are being routed toward Iraq via police auctions and direct sales from countries as far away as United States and Poland.

For the cars coming from Iraq, Fullmer said a central dealer in Baghdad is gathering cars and vans from different places in the country.

The goal is to get an average of 20 automobiles to pass inspection per day for the next 10 days, Fullmer said. This is considering that at least half of them will fail the inspections due to faulty mechanics.

"If we need to get 40 to get 20 a day, that's what we will do," Fullmer said.

In addition to the vehicle purchases, Johnson said there is also an effort to get the departments upgraded radio equipment. This will allow the local police to be more effective on patrol.

"We should be able to provide a reasonably robust transportation and (communications) package," Johnson said. "At least, more robust than they ever had before."