MILLEDGEVILLE — Law enforcement duty obligates a willingness to change with the times. Non-traditional thinking helps officers better serve the community, while making best use of citizens’ tax dollars.
Taking full advantage of the 2012 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office bought two 2013 Kia Optima cars now assigned to courthouse duties.
According to Michael Hutchinson of Hutchinson Kia in Macon, the vehicles are the first ever sold for governmental use. The county’s bold purchase is turning heads locally and internationally.
“It’s gotten back to the president of Kia. Hopefully this could be a test market not only for us but Kia also to get into fleet markets we haven’t been in,” Hutchinson said. “We are always looking at how can we grow. We sell a lot of Kia’s in this zip code. To also have them through the county law enforcement is great for us.”
Both 4-cyclinder, 200-horsepower Optimas are equipped like a normal patrol cruiser minus the cage. Added safety features such as Bluetooth technology and a rear back-up camera help during day-to-day operations.
Capt. Lynnette LaRocque said officers fell in love with the features not customary in the normal 60-car fleet.
“I think they were overwhelmed by the luxury inside these cars,” LaRocque said.
Court Services Supervisor Capt. Scott Deason said the Kia gets twice the gas mileage of the Crown Victoria. The cars have been well received by the public also.
Eventually, the BCSO could purchase more Optimas testing them in patrol, education, investigation and transport applications.
“It’s more practical than we initially thought. I could see it expanding into other divisions we have,” Deason said. “I’m very high on this vehicle. It’s more practical than people think.”
The Kia idea came about last year when LaRocque tried to find more green-friendly vehicles on state contract but came up empty. When the Kia brand was selected, a county bid, that Hutchinson Kia won, went out because the maker wasn’t under contract.
“None of the state contract vehicles were very fuel-efficient. That was a big thing. We spend a lot on gasoline every year,” LaRocque said. “It just so happened that Kia happened to be the best out there. The cost of the car and fuel savings coupled with the warranty made it a no brainer.”
The Kias, carrying a 10-year 100,000 warranty, came fully equipped for $20,000 apiece compared to around $27,000 for the typical cruiser.
Sheriff Bill Massee likes that the Kia Optima is Georgia made. Kia’s West Point factory produces 360,000 vehicles per year, while providing more than 3,000 jobs.
“It had a good reputation and also is a Georgia product,” Massee said. “It’s very hard for somebody to question why we would buy something different especially when it’s built in West Point, Ga.”
Currently, the Optimas are under evaluation. The sheriff wants to get through the end of the year to see how they really function under law enforcement conditions considering fuel and maintenance savings.
Pending the results, the BCSO might have more Kias on the street. Hutchinson wants to help.
“This is a relationship we could build that helps Baldwin County and Hutchinson Kia,” he said.
Deason said being the first law enforcement agency with striped out Kias shows the foresight of county leadership’s use of resources to get more bang for taxpayer bucks. The sheriff’s office isn’t scared to embrace new thinking to serve better.
“Historically, we’ve never been scared of change. Some people don’t like change, and we’ve become accustomed to it,” the sheriff said. “You’d be surprised at the other law enforcement people that see these vehicles that say ‘I didn’t know you could do that with a car.’ These show something different, not just in Baldwin County, but also in law enforcement as a whole.”
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