Police Scramble to Keep Up With Accelerating Gas Prices

By Ann E. Marimow and Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 19, 2005

A police officer's Ford Crown Victoria often doubles as an office.

An office that has to be heated in the winter, air-conditioned in the summer and go from zero to 60 in seconds. All that takes gas.

Virginia state troopers burn about 200,000 gallons in their cruisers each month. Sheriff's deputies in one Southern Maryland county drive more than 430,000 miles a month, and state police officers there routinely use a tank of gasoline on every eight-hour shift.

As fuel prices rise steeply across the nation, the region's police departments are bracing to blow their budgets and, in some cases, are considering strategies to conserve.

Montgomery County has discussed reviving a program from a decade ago that required police officers to park, turn off their cars and patrol by foot for 10 minutes each hour.

Since last year, the Maryland State Police has discouraged troopers from idling when monitoring a closed road and have encouraged them to use radar from a parked car, instead of cruising, to catch speeders.

"One thing's for sure: We can't stop patrolling," said Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police.

Unlike some workers who can choose to ride the Metro or a bus to the office when gasoline prices climb, a police officer's car is critical to the job.

"They don't have a desk at a police station. They live and work in their cruiser," said Nick Tucci , director of the police management and budget division in Montgomery. "That's their lifeline."

Patrol officers write reports, search criminal databases and send e-mails from computers in their cars. Those devices, in addition to radios and emergency lights, can run on batteries when the engine is turned off.

But the battery power lasts only so long. Police said officers prefer to idle, and that uses gas -- lots of it.

The average price of a gallon of regular gas in the United States was $2.59 yesterday, up 39 percent from a year ago, when the average was $1.87. In the Washington region, the average price was up to $2.65 -- the highest price since AAA began recording such numbers in 1974. The agency provides prices in its daily fuel report.

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