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POLICE PUSH TO PURCHASE UNMARKED CARS RESISTED

The Buffalo Police Department's push to buy 13 unmarked cars for $160,000 faces resistence from some Common Council members who say the vehicles will be nothing more than "taxis" for law enforcers with take-home car privileges.

When the Council meets Tuesday, it is likely to delay a vote on a request to spend $120,000 to buy eight Ford Tauruses. A separate request to spend $40,000 on five used vehicles for use by law enforcers as unmarked cars has been sent to the Council without Finance Committee recommendation.

Some Council members think that if new vehicles are purchased, it would make more sense to buy Ford Crown Victorias, models that could be used at some point as patrol cars. Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana said the Tauruses do not offer much flexibility.

"The Taurus is never used for police (patrols). It's used for a taxicab," he said. "They're essentially taxis that drive people back and forth from home."

Fontana said he was not necessarily criticizing the use of take-home vehicles by many police captains, noting that existing contracts require the city to extend such privileges. But he thinks that any new vehicles should be models that could be easily converted into patrol cars if needed.

Richard A. Ortiz, the Police Department's chief of administration, recently met with Council members and defended the planned purchases. The Tauruses are more economical than the Crown Victorias, Ortiz argued. But South Council Member James D. Griffin does not support the expenditures, saying that some officials act as if Buffalo has "all kinds of money."

"I see no need to buy new vehicles. I see no need to buy used vehicles," Griffin said.

If the Police Department needs unmarked cars, Griffin said, it should look for vehicles at the city's auto impound, or confiscate cars that are abandoned on streets and in parking lots. Griffin said that when he was mayor, some commissioners drove cars taken from the impound.

But Griffin's jaunt down memory lane spurred city Finance Commissioner James B. Milroy to assert that fewer officials are driving city-owned vehicles these days. He pointed out that Griffin's finance chief drove a city car, a perk that Milroy does not receive.

The Police Department's request for $40,000 to buy five used cars also is raising questions. Fontana said that there is some confusion about the procurement policy the Police Department would use to buy the vehicles. "I'm not giving a blank check for $40,000 unless I know how they're going to do it," he said.

University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell agreed that lawmakers need more details before approving the request. "Everything is a secret in this administration, and no one wants to ask questions," Russell said. "It's getting a little bit out of hand."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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