West Richland Police Chief defends mobile response van

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 28, 2014 

West Richland Police Chief Brian McElroy said Friday that the city's mobile response van is a cost-effective asset for the community.

McElroy called a news conference to show the department's 2006 Ford E450 van after a West Richland citizen criticized in a letter to the Herald the need for the vehicle.

Gary Somdahl called the purchase a misuse of public money.

"Having a crime van for a city our size is ridiculous. A waste of money, period," Somdahl told the Herald on Friday.

"We're a small city. There's not a lot of revenue in this town, so every bit helps. If we begin to waste it here and there, it gets out of control. We need to be aware of what administrators in this city are doing with our money," he said.

But McElroy said they took advantage of a government surplus program to get the van originally valued at $44,000 for just the cost of picking it up at Fort Lewis in Tacoma and driving it back.

McElroy said the department bought the van in November 2012 through the Defense Department's 1033 Program.

"It's a federal program for police agencies to supply equipment for use in crime fighting. We pay an annual fee of $400 to participate in the program, then go online to see what's available," McElroy said.

They found the van listed, checked out the photos and had it put on hold until they could inspect it.

The van had been used at the Umatilla Army Depot as an air quality monitoring vehicle and had less than 9,000 miles.

The van is equipped with cupboards, counters, refrigerator and sink. It also has two generators.

It's already been used at two crime scenes when officers needed a place out of the extreme cold and pouring rain to work.

"They needed a place out of the wet where they could process evidence. It can also be used to conduct command post operations," McElroy said.

It also was used for West Richland events such as Hogs 'N Dogs and National Night Out and for police training.

"I believe it was a good use of the citizens' money. Public safety is a priority of mine and this vehicle enhances our police department's ability to respond to any situation, be it a flood, fire, crime or a school incident," said Mayor Brent Gerry.

Somdahl contacted McElroy by email earlier in February about the van.

"I responded in an email last week and offered to show him the van but he never responded," McElroy said.

Since getting the van, the department slowly has been building up a stock of equipment for the van.

And McElroy said the department has spent less than $1,500 for maintenance.

Also, he said, "We replaced the Formica countertop with a metal one so it's easier to clean." The countertop was donated by Metal Fabrication of West Richland. West Richland RV Supply and Service donated an awning.

Signs by Sue in Pasco donated decals to identify it as a West Richland Police Department vehicle. It cost $646 to put on the decals.

McElroy said a police department volunteer routinely checks the van out and tests the generators to ensure everything is ready to use at any time.

"I feel I and the department have been good stewards with the citizens' money. It's one of my jobs to spend wisely," McElroy said.

w Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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