I-Team Report: Where's the Fleet?

February 25, 2010 6:48:32 AM PST
Why was a Chicago police officer killed in a crash on Lake Shore Drive driving a 5-year-old police car with 114,000 miles on it? And what happened to the SUVs that were supposed to replace those sedans?

On paper and in press conferences it looked and sounded good; swap out the entire aging fleet of Chicago police squad cars with new SUVs. But the I-Team has learned that what was to be a top-to-bottom replacement of the city's entire patrol car fleet, may end up far short of that.

It has been four years since Mayor Daley showed off a prototype Chevy Tahoe with rooftop cameras, night vision and two high-speed data terminals that he said would someday replace Chicago squad cars. But at $85,000 per vehicle, they ended up in the pile of City Hall pipe dreams.

In late 2008, the city came to a suburban Chevy dealer and, like many motorists driven by economic reality, settled for a less snazzy, two-wheel drive SUV. They signed a $59 million deal for 2,000 Chevy Tahoes that were to be delivered through 2011.

So where are they?

The I-Team found that only 219 Tahoes are on the street so far - less than 10 percent of the city's fleet.

There weren't enough new cars for veteran Sergeant Alan Haymaker's shift early Monday. Haymaker was killed when his 2005 Chevy Impala skidded on Lake Shore Drive. The car had been out of service for most of December and January for maintenance.

"It was a pool car. We were probably short on cars and knowing the type of guy Sgt. Haymaker was he probably said, 'I'll take this pool car and let the guys have the newer vehicles.' We were down a car, he took a pool car, and that's what he used," said Supt Jody Weis, Chicago Police Department.

Five-year-old squad cars are on the road, while the I-Team found some brand new Tahoes parked in a lot at Area one headquarters, waiting to be painted and outfitted with lights, sirens and decals.

According to police officials Wednesday night, there are 18 "yet to be deployed." And the I-Team was told that another 266 police Tahoes will be ordered soon and on the street in July and August. That brings the city total to 503 total Tahoes available for use by the police motor pool, and that is it, according to a spokesman for Police Superintendent Jody Weis, unless a new source of grant money is found. That leaves the city 1,500 vehicles short of the announced Chicago Police Department plan.

Late Wednesday a police department spokesman told the I-Team that if they were to get more grant money, they would order more cars. There seemed to be some confusion between the city's police and fleet management departments concerning exactly how much money there is - or might be - for replacement SUV patrol vehicles. So we'll turn to what Superintendent Weis said is the only factual source for police information, his personal Web blog, which puts the total number of police Tahoes at about 500.