How to write your police take home vehicle policy

A law enforcement take home car policy can help a department save money, extend the life of their cars, help deter crime, and even accelerate response times.

September 1, 2021

Article highlights

Law enforcement take home vehicle programs are considered one of the perks of the job for police officers, but they also have a lot of perks for the department and community at large. That's why they're popular and widely used in most law enforcement agencies around the country.

For example, in Broward and southern Palm Beach counties in South Florida, 4,250 officers drive their department-issued cars home when they go off-duty.

Of course, the programs are not without their detractors, especially when officers are found to be abusing the take home vehicle program, driving well outside their home county on personal business, speeding, or otherwise misusing their department vehicles.

It's possible to reduce some of these complaints by having a take home car policy for your department. It shows you’re committed to your officers using the vehicles responsibly, and it sets the standards for anyone assigned a vehicle.

Ultimately, the take home car program can save money, deter crime, and reduce response times.

In this article, we'll discuss the take home car program, why it's important, why a take home car policy is critical, and what should go into your own policy.

What is a take home car program?

Also called an assigned vehicle program (AVP), a take home car program is where a police officer is assigned a vehicle that they can take home with them at the end of each shift and drive it for off-duty use.

For example, the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office says "assigned vehicles shall be authorized for all employees whose job function necessitates an assigned vehicle as approved by the Sheriff." Their assigned vehicles can be used both on and off-duty, only as long as the vehicle is inside Palm Beach County. Otherwise, they can only be used for commuting and official business.

The program is usually offered as a perk for officers to avoid putting mileage and wear on their own vehicles, but it's often also included in collective bargaining agreements with police unions. 

Why take home car programs are important

We spoke with Nicholas Haupt – Chief Consultant of BlueIQ, a consulting company that helps small- to medium-sized law enforcement organizations achieve professional excellence – about the importance of a law enforcement take home car policy. 

"One benefit is that it’s seen as a crime deterrent," said Haupt. "If you see a police car parked in someone's driveway, you might be less inclined to commit crime in the area. It also gives the feeling of more protection and presence in the neighborhood; it has a visible mark in the community."

A take home car policy also has the benefit of extending the life of a vehicle. Officers take pride in the ownership of their vehicles. It's assigned to them and no one else is driving it. So they keep it clean, washed, waxed, etc., which can extend its life, unlike a pool car that gets treated like a rental car.

As Fort Lauderdale Police Capt. Eric Brogna told the Southern Florida Sun-Sentinel, "If you're buying something that costs $20,000 every six years instead of every three years, there are savings."

If nothing else, a take home car policy can help a department save money. In 2010, the Cape Coral (Florida) PD studied the cost of a take home car policy versus a purely pooled or modified pooled program. They found that "the more an agency pools its vehicles, the greater the cost."

They estimated that a pooled vehicle program could cost anywhere from $3.4 million to $10 million per year, and a modified pool would cost between $2.4 million and $6.6 million. The cost for their existing take home vehicle program? $2.31 million.

Why take home car policies are important

A police take home vehicle policy is important for a number of reasons, one being to protect the department from certain issues.

"A police take home vehicle program is a privilege, not a right," said Haupt. "There's also a question of insurance and who's liable when they're driving to and from work and during off-duty."

It's an important question: When an officer drives for work, they're operating under the city's insurance. But the city has to decide whether they want to cover the officers' off-duty usage or if the officers' own auto insurance should cover it.

Some cities have worked with their risk management to determine that their insurance carriers have a rider, waiver, or policy addition for extended non-owner liability. This way, employees can be covered going to and from work. They would purchase this under their insurance, which adds to their own costs, although it's still a lot less than driving their cars to and from work.

The police take home vehicle policy is also important because the vehicle's driver represents the agency, just as if they were wearing a uniform. Even if the officer is off-duty and wearing civilian clothes, they're casting the department in a bad light if they're speeding or driving recklessly. 

"Newspapers have done exposés by requesting toll transponders and records for different law enforcement agencies and did simple math to see how long it took a car to go from toll plaza 1 to 2 to 3. They were catching people doing 80, 90, 100 miles an hour going home. Then they would call the chiefs and say, 'This is what we found, what do you have to say about it?'"
–Nicholas Haupt, Chief Consultant at BlueIQ

Finally, do your officers need any kind of equipment or service weapon in the car when they take it home? Should they respond to an emergency when they're going home or at home? How should they respond in these outlying scenarios? 

A law enforcement take home car policy can help you answer a lot of these questions and avoid these problems. The right kind of policy will detail who's responsible for insurance and liability costs when an officer is driving while off-duty or commuting. It will deal with operating the car during off-duty times and detail penalties and consequences for misusing it. And it will spell out what officers are required to carry in their car and when and how they're expected to respond to emergencies.

What your police take home vehicle policy should include

Your take home vehicle policy should include mostly prohibitions and detail the things you don't want people doing while operating a take home vehicle. It should also cover the conditions about when and whether someone can have one. It should be proactive in terms of what an officer should be doing when operating their take home vehicle. It can even cover what is expected in terms of maintenance or responding to an incident.

A lot of agencies don't have a take home car policy as a standalone policy. Many of them incorporate it into the general operation of vehicles policy because the take-home portion is a piece of a bigger puzzle.

Your department's own take home vehicle policy should establish the following:

  • Who's responsible for care and maintenance?
  • Reasons that a take home vehicle privilege could be revoked, such as being involved in an at-fault accident or poor driving habits
  • Driving restrictions, especially if the officer lives outside the city limits
  • Whether family members can ride in the vehicle
  • Rules about driving in a way that reflects poorly on the department or the community
  • Dress code while driving off-duty
  • Whether they should respond to an emergency and what kind
  • Any technology or trackers that are used in the vehicles

This is not an inclusive list, by any means. These are a few examples from the Covington, Georgia Assigned Vehicle Program, but they're the same kinds of rules and requirements found in nearly every take home vehicle policy.

When creating your own take home vehicle policy, you can look online for model policies, borrow from other policies already published online, and talk to nearby police agencies to see what they use for their own take home policies.

Final thoughts

Allowing your officers to take home an assigned vehicle can save your department a lot of money, it can be used as a perk for officers as a salary supplement, it can help deter crime, and can even extend the vehicle's life and reduce maintenance costs.

But with great privilege comes great responsibility. It's important to establish standards and rules about how officers are expected to use their assigned vehicles, care for and maintain them, and when and how they can drive them during off-duty hours. That's why each law enforcement agency needs a take home vehicle policy of some kind.

PowerDMS has worked for years to help police departments create policies such as take home vehicle policies, as well as active shooter situations, racial profiling, and police pursuits. Learn about 12 other policies your law enforcement agency should have in writing today.

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