New rides for Columbus officers

 Messenger photo by John Matuszak
 Columbus City Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson gets behind the wheel of a police cruiser similar to the 20 new vehicles the city will be purchasing. Council approved spending $688,000 for the cruisers Sept. 10, adding to the $3.5 million invested in the Division of Police fleet earlier this year.

The Columbus Division of Police, racing to get its cruiser fleet up to full strength, received a boost from City Council Sept. 10.

"We’re in catch-up mode to replace our high-mileage vehicles," reported police

Commander Michael Springer, prior to a vote by council to spend $688,000 for 20 new vehicles.

The life span of a police cruiser is around 100,000 to 125,000 miles, but many of the division’s vehicles are well over that limit, Springer, commander of the technical services unit, said.

Due to an economic downturn earlier in the decade, Columbus had been unable to replace as many of its emergency vehicles as officials wanted, according to Councilman Andrew Ginther, who worked with Councilman Kevin Boyce and Mayor Michael Coleman to put the financing package together.

The city is now making up some of the lost ground, the councilman noted. Earlier this year the city invested  $3.5 million in the police fleet, buying 42 cruisers, nine motorcycles, 31 undercover cars, 30 unmarked  cars, five canine cars and 18 prisoner transport vehicles.

Those vehicles are just hitting the streets, but they were ordered too late to be used in the summer crime strike force efforts.

The latest string of cruisers will arrive early in 2008 and will be available when crime-fighting efforts gear up again next summer, Safety Director Mitchell Brown told council.

The purchase is also allowing the city to take advantage of 2007 prices, Brown added.

A large chunk of the price tag, $336,000, will come from the Photo Red Light Fund, that collects fines of motorists caught on camera speeding through traffic signals.

The Division of Police maintains a fleet of more than 1,000 vehicles, including 375 marked cruisers, Springer said.

With parts of the fleet rapidly wearing out, Springer has had to scrap 160 vehicles this year.

He will be asking the city to purchase another 60 cruisers this year.

One of the unique features of the new cruisers will be detachable, mobile computers, rather than the built-in models the older vehicles have, Springer noted.

The Division of Police isn’t the only one rapidly making progress, council pointed out in recognizing the Columbus City Schools for achievements on the state report card.

Ginther, a former Columbus school board member, presented a resolution to Superintendent Gene Harris, staff and board members, noting that since 2001 the district has climbed out of "academic watch" status and has reached the "continuous improvement" designation.

"It has been a team effort," Harris said.

Ginther said that Columbus is also the first district in Ohio to meet all 42 categories for Annual Yearly Progress, and that its Performance Index Score has risen almost 18 percentage points since 2001.

Graduation rates have increased 17 percentage points, and the district is on its way to achieving the state standard of 90 percent, Ginther added. Attendance is up and truancy is down.

"The exciting thing is, our kids are excited," Harris offered.

With improved performance at the district level, more opportunities for higher education are opening up.

The amount in scholarships and grants received by Columbus graduates for college has spiked from $22 million to $45 million, the superintendent said.

The district will have an another opportunity to tout its success at the State of the Schools address, scheduled for Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Fort Hayes complex.

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