POLICE PRESENCE: Police allow off-duty vehicle use in city

COLUMBIA CITY — The controversial topic of police take-home cars received another policy change in November.Columbia City Police officers are now allowed to have restricted off-duty use. According to the new policy, police are allowed to drive their cars while off the clock — as long as they stay within the city limits.“Unless the officer lives outside the city limits, the vehicle should not be anywhere else,” CCPD Chief Tim Longenbaugh said. “The reason for that is it needs to benefit Columbia City and its citizens.”The policy does not change regulations on any other topics regarding take-home cars — including leaving the county. While CCPD vehicles may be seen outside of town, officers are only allowed to leave the county for police-related business, including investigations and purchasing equipment.The department is confident the money spent on the new policy will benefit its local citizens, Longenbaugh said.Officers are mandated to stop for stranded vehicles and the change will allow police to have a quicker response time for emergencies. “This policy gives us a better chance to help people,” said Longenbaugh. Longenbaugh said the policy will be monitored, and if an individual is driving his or her vehicle excessively, the problem will be addressed.Other than playing a part in a quicker response time, Longenbaugh said a greater number of police cars patrolling the roads is likely to mean less crime.“In this way it will act as more of a deterrent for both crime and traffic violations,” said Longenbaugh. “The marked car has always had an impact on those issues when seen by the public.”Mayor Ryan Daniel said the policy is flexible, depending primarily on the budget.“It is a policy that has and will change,” said Mayor Daniel. “Whether we allow the off-duty use or not mainly depends on if gas prices jump near $4 again.”Before March of this year, the policy allowed officers restricted off-duty use, but gas prices soared, taking away the privilege.“We’ve put that policy in affect in preparation for the winter months, and we will reevaluate that policy as gas prices change and as we go into the summer,” said Mayor Daniel. “Typically, what you have when you move from the winter fuel to the summer fuel are spikes in prices. We’ll watch that.”While Longenbaugh and Mayor Daniel said they do not know the specific policies of surrounding communities, they do know some have regulations for off-duty use.“Every community does things a little different, changing their policy from time to time,” said Longenbaugh. “We’ve actually gone back and forth and had changes to the policy for three years.”With the possibility of inclement weather, Mayor Daniel said he hopes the policy will stay in place into next year.“Having the officers patrolling during that kind of snowy times, I think it gives our citizens a sense of security,” said Mayor Daniel.