For most residents, car maintenance is something to do every 3,000 miles that takes little toll on day-to-day life.
For the Fountain Valley Police Department, the concept of acquiring, building and maintaining equipment means an ordeal that takes years to perfect and months to implement, and it all falls on one truth: nothing lasts forever.
From radar guns to the police cruisers, everything in the Fountain Valley Police Department has a shelf life that determines when the city tests, repairs and ultimately replaces it.
THE POLICE FLEET
It's hard to imagine buying a new car and not being able to drive it right away, but at the Fountain Valley field services department, new police cruisers sometimes won't be ready for the road for two to three months pending equipment outfitting done entirely by the department.
General Services Manager Dale Schuck, who has been in charge of the city's police fleet and utility vehicles since 2010, oversees the maintenance for all 153 vehicles owned by the city. He said that safety, especially for police cars, is a high priority.
Outfitting a car can take a toll on its longevity, according to Schuck. Police cars suffer more body damage, have added weight from equipment putting more tension on the car's shocks, and a heavier sway bar to make sure the car doesn't roll when taking a fast turn during a pursuit.
All of these upgrades and outfittings mean that unlike regular cars, police cruisers are inspected on a regular basis to make them fit for duty.
Complications do arise when outfitting new cars, according to mechanic Chuck Hargis, who said that the first Dodge Charger he outfitted took 156 hours to complete compared with the average 80 hours for the department's old Ford Crown Victoria cars.
Hargis said the learning curve for outfitting the new cars comes after becoming used to the Crown Victoria, which has become synonymous with police enforcement.
"When you see a Crown Victoria, it's a cop car and you know it," Hargis said. "The car has been a good car for the time that Ford produced it."
With Ford no longer manufacturing the Crown Victoria, the department is purchasing Dodge Chargers to replace its old vehicles – meaning major upgrades to the department's look.
LONGEVITY AND TESTING
The difference between faulty and usable for police equipment can mean the difference between life and death, according to Capt. Mike Simko.
So for items like bulletproof vests and firearms, any chance of failure is unacceptable.
Officers personally test their handguns on a weekly or monthly basis. Additionally, the police armorer and range master, Jerry Huffman, tests more than 100 different firearms each year for the entire department.
Simko said that because the handguns have more use with monthly qualifying tests at shooting ranges, they are given a seven-year life span before being replaced.
To ensure safety both outside and inside a vehicle, a schedule for life span exists for all items in the city, and the Police Department has strict guidelines for what can stay and what needs replaced.
For cars, Schuck said the department anticipates that each vehicle has a life of 15 years or a 100,000-mile life span. During an inspection for vehicles, which takes place every 3,000 miles or 180 days, according to Schuck, the mechanics use a point scale using variables like mileage, maintenance costs and age to create a point total from one, for excellent, to 30, meaning needs immediate replacement.
Variables can sometimes mean that the expected 15-year life span can be exceeded if the car stays in good shape with regular maintenance.
Simko and Schuck agree that maintaining a low budget and expanding the longevity of police cruisers and equipment is a huge concern because new items are paid for by the taxpayers of the city.
"The one thing that I try to always let people know is that we're spending the public's money, and we're very conscientious about how we spend that money," Simko said.
August 29, 2014