Rising up from the Ashes

Rising up from the ashes.

The MSHP Fleet and Facilities Division confronts a calamity and rebounds with a remarkable new facility.

It’s been 12 years (2004) since we last visited the Missouri State Highway Patrol Fleet and Facilities Division. Back then, we took an in-depth look at both their successful used vehicle sales program and at the talented folks at the General Headquarters Garage who make it all possible. This year marks the 85th anniversary of the Patrol and, from those humble beginnings in 1931, it has grown to be one of the premier state enforcement agencies in the country.

The 55 patrolmen who made up the first academy class of the Missouri State Highway Patrol in 1931 are all gone now, but they would be amazed to see the changes in their beloved Patrol. While they drove Model A Roadsters with no tops, the 1300 uniformed members of today’s Patrol (up from 1040 in 2004) now protect and serve in everything from Dodge HEMI® Chargers to helicopters, fixed wing aircraft to Harley-Davidson® motorcycles and SUVs from Chevrolet and Ford to watercraft.

Sadly, no mention of the history of the Missouri State Highway Patrol is complete without paying respect to the troopers who have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in the line of duty. Thirty-one troopers have died in the 85 year history of the Patrol, the most recent being Trooper James Bava, 25, who perished during a pursuit in August of last year. It’s often been said that it’s not important to remember how these heroes died, but, instead, how they lived. Rest in peace.

The Beginnings

Most highway patrol and state police agencies came about because of the growing number of vehicles on America’s roads. With the emergence of paved roads and highways connecting multiple states, it became apparent that traffic laws needed to be written and agencies had to be created to enforce them. Although originally designed as traffic enforcement and safety officers, many of these agencies soon took on a crime fighting stance, too, because depression era criminals ignored state borders as they terrorized the nation.

The Missouri Patrol was no different. In addition to traffic enforcement, the first year those 55 patrolmen were on the road, they made 38,000 arrests, recovered 131 stolen vehicles, arrested 14 bank robbers and solved several homicides. In the years since 1931, the Patrol’s duties have multiplied many times over. The wheels which keep all of this in motion can be found in Jefferson City at the General Headquarters (GHQ) Garage, home of the Fleet and Facilities Division.

Up from the Ashes

Originally opened in 1981 on a hilltop, five acre tract approximately five minutes south of General Headquarters, the GHQ Garage has served the Patrol well, providing both maintenance and repair duties, as well as being the place where new vehicles are upfitted for duty and prepped for resale when retired. The original building was about 20,000 square feet with ten service bays and two detail bays, plus a radio shop.

Missouri is divided geographically into nine patrol areas, or troops. Troop F is in Jefferson City and the GHQ Garage services their vehicles, as well as those assigned to Headquarters. The remaining eight troops have their own service technicians who perform routine service and minor repairs.

In 2014, an 8000 square foot building housing a two bay body shop and a three bay marine shop was added to the garage complex. The marine bays became necessary following the merger of the Highway Patrol and the Water Patrol in 2011 when the garage became responsible for watercraft.

On April 8, 2014, Larry Rains, Director of the Fleet and Facilities Division, was awakened from a sound sleep with a telephone call which would drastically change the next two years of his life, as well as the entire Patrol. He was alerted that the garage which had nobly served the Patrol for 33 years was engulfed in flames. The fire, fueled by tires, gasoline and other chemicals, raged for some time, but the Jefferson City Fire Department eventually knocked it down. The building was a total loss, as well as eight vehicles inside, one of which was a new Tahoe being upfitted. It was determined the fire was caused by an aftermarket invertor installed in a Water Patrol Silverado which had been towed to the garage following a noticeable lightning strike. The pickup had numerous electrical issues and was left in a bay overnight awaiting repairs.  Apparently, an electrical short ignited the blaze.

The Long Road Back

A replacement facility became the top priority for the Patrol because, not only is the GHQ Garage responsible for vehicle service and repairs, it is also the hub for the constant rotation of vehicles in and out of the fleet and into the resale program. But first, Fleet and Facilities had to find adequate facilities to keep the troopers on the road. Several state owned properties in and around Jefferson City were put into temporary use and the new body and marine shop became their emergency office and upfit center. Three part-time drivers were hired just to shuttle Patrol vehicles throughout the city.

Simultaneous to this, planning for the new garage began in earnest. It was determined that the new facility would retain the same footprint as its predecessor, but, to gain the space needed for an operation (substantially more complex than in 1981), it was decided to go up instead of out. The new GHQ Garage was completed on December 18, 2015, and it officially reopened on December 21, 2015, just three months shy of two years since the fire.

The resulting structure is 26,797 square feet which includes a 6000 square foot mezzanine storage area above the ground floor. It has 11 service/repair bays – four of which are upfit/decommission bays and two are detail bays. The garage has seven lifts and one alignment rack. All of this sits on a spectacular, highly polished concrete floor with a mirrorlike finish. In fact, two of the three part-time retirees hired to shuttle vehicles during construction were retained to maintain the spit and polish of the new building. The most significant feature of the building’s design is the “drive-through” capability, similar to that of a contemporary automobile dealership.

The garage operates from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and is staffed by nine auto technicians, two first line technical supervisors, one collision technician, two marine technicians, the garage superintendent and two assistants. In addition, one of the auto technicians is cross-trained as a motorcycle technician. An additional ten technicians are assigned to the remaining eight troops.

Work performed at the GHQ Garage has increased significantly since we last wrote about them. More collision work is now performed in-house. Some warranty and air bag work is performed there, as well as at dealerships. Maintenance of the Patrol’s Aircraft Division (fixed wing and helicopters) is performed in a hangar at the Jefferson City Airport by two technicians assigned there.

The Garage has a fuel station where Troop F and GHQ vehicles are fueled. Fuel for vehicles assigned to the remaining eight troops is obtained at Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) sites throughout the state or at local service stations.

The Fleet

The current fiscal year budget for vehicle replacements is $13 million, up $3 million from 2004. State policy dictates that monies from the sale of retired vehicles is recycled directly back into this acquisition budget. The Patrol typically purchases 400 to 500 vehicles a year.

During the “Crown Vic years,” the Patrol was primarily all Ford, with the exception of some support, admin and CID vehicles. With Ford’s decision to retire the CVPI (the most popular police sedan ever built) with the 2011 model year, Missouri (and most of the other departments in the country) had to look outside the Ford box for suitable replacements. As you all know, Ford did eventually bounce back with their downsized Interceptor Sedans and Utilities. During the “no Ford drought,” Missouri experimented with several LE vehicles and settled on Dodge HEMI Chargers and Chevrolet Impalas and Tahoes. As Ford got back in the game, the Patrol added Interceptor Utilities, but it is unlikely the Patrol will ever return to being all Ford. The Impalas are now being phased out due to GM’s decision to stop building them.

The MOSHP (enforcement) fleet at the time of this writing consisted of 619 Dodge Chargers, 210 Ford PI Utilities and 96 Chevy Tahoes. In addition, there are some pickups, PI sedans and Impala 9C1 sedans in use. Approximately 20% of the enforcement fleet is “slick top.” All PI Utilities and Dodge Chargers in service are AWD. Commercial vehicle enforcement troopers utilize 3/4 ton crew cab pickups and Tahoe PPV SUVs. The Patrol also has nine 2014 Harley-Davidson FLHTP motorcycles in part-time service. They are included in the resale program and are typically retired after three years of service. All-in, the entire MOSHP fleet racked up 31.7 million miles in 2015, up from 25 million in 2004. The increase in miles might be due in part to the cheaper fuel prices of the last couple of years. The entire sedan and SUV fleet rolls on Goodyear® tires.

The Patrol upfits all of the fleet themselves in the garage and does not purchase a great deal of emergency equipment offered by the manufacturers. After years of practice, their upfitting program is geared towards the ease of prepping vehicles for resale. They utilize their own wiring harness/fuse box looms built in-house, leaving factory wiring harnesses for the next buyer. Their consoles are built by Department of Corrections’ inmates. Lightbars are mounted without drilling holes in the vehicle’s roof and the cable is routed up the outside of the A pillar. Radios, controls, cameras and computers are all installed in-house by the radio shop. The Patrol has resisted changing their graphics (which date back to 1931) because of a strong tradition and because studies have shown that vehicles wearing elaborate two-tones and stripes take more time to decommission and have been proven to hinder resell, therefore reducing profit. It takes approximately 16 hours to prep sedans for duty. The trucks and SUVs take longer.

The Field of Dreams

Being a 30 year police car collector and writer, I think of the MOSHP sale lot as “The Field of Dreams.” In 2004, I referred to it as an “Easter basket full of cars” because of the Patrol’s unique multicolor fleet which consists of nearly every factory color offered. Once again, color choices are resale driven. When the fleet was mostly Crown Vics, customer demand caused them to purchase 75% white units. Now, with the variety of makes and models offered for sale, the Patrol purchases about 50% white units.

When I walk that lot behind the GHQ Garage, I’m like a kid in a candy store. The rows and rows of pristine cruisers sit patiently waiting to chase that next speeder or catch that next criminal or even become a reliable family sedan for someone like myself. But, before I reach into my blue jeans for a handful of cash, I’m jarred into reality as I remember that I can’t buy one. Missouri State Law dictates that these vehicles be offered to other agencies FIRST. Resale prices are also set by the State Commissioner of Administration and are 60-70% of MSRP. There’s no dickering or haggling as each unit has a set price. Those of you who purchase used cruisers for your department might think these prices are high for used police cars, but over 200 repeat customers would argue with you. In fact, there are many other agencies which also purchase vehicles, only less frequently. Over the years, used MOSHP vehicles have been sold to agencies in nearly every state in America. Units which do not sell to agencies can be sold to the general public. These sales are usually handled through direct sales or occasionally at auctions conducted by the Missouri Agency for Surplus Property.

So, Why Is Their Program So Successful?

Well, first of all, they’ve had over 40 years to perfect it. Actually, the MOSHP has been selling their used cruisers themselves since the ’60s and ‘70s. There was a time when they were retiring the cars at 10,000 miles and the public was often paying retail prices to score one. New state laws changed a lot of that, but unlike a lot of questionable new laws passed, the state fathers didn’t screw this up. The rapid turnover and long waiting lists attest to that. The bottom line is the Patrol does exactly what I’ve been preaching for 17 years in this column: Plan your resale before you ever buy a police vehicle. With new police units approaching 30 grand, it is just plain crazy to drive them until the wheels fall off, or rack up two hundred thousand miles on the odometer and sell them for a few hundred bucks. Sure, at a few hundred bucks each, you’ll have police impersonators and wanna-bes lined out the back door to buy one, but if you are financially well-off enough to buy new cruisers, why not retire them early and sell them to departments who can’t afford new ones?

Okay, here’s how it works. I’ve already explained how the vehicles are initially prepped to facilitate easy removal of the equipment upon retirement. The patrol sedans are retired at 54,000 miles – no more, no less. Obviously, with the miles the troopers drive, it doesn’t take long to rack these up. The Tahoes and PI Utilities are retired at 64,500 miles as they tend to have higher resale values. The retired vehicles have been driven (and taken home) by one trooper or perhaps two, at the most. They are pampered, babied and every Missouri trooper I’ve ever known has pictures of themselves and every unit he (or she) has been assigned. Weekly field inspections keep the cruisers standing tall. By state law, the use of all tobacco products in the vehicles is forbidden and the troopers cannot modify the vehicles.

Once the equipment is removed, the vehicles are given a complete inspection, not just a quick once-over. Any items needing service or replacement are taken care of and brakes and tires with less than 50% remaining life are replaced. Cosmetic damage is then repaired or, if they elect not to repair it, the vehicle is discounted. Finally, all emblems are carefully removed and the unit is treated to a complete detail – inside and out. Unlike many used police car dealers, the Patrol’s fleet is sold with spare tires and jacks and all service records are included as well. The garage no longer has to drill the rear quarter panels to install whip antennas. There are usually two antenna holes in the roof and the garage caps them and leaves the coax for the next owner.

It’s not impossible to initiate a resale program like Missouri’s. Obviously, few departments could afford to start a similar program for an entire fleet at first, so phase it in gradually. If you only buy ten cars at a time, decide that you’ll retire half at 50,000 miles. Follow the tips in this article on how to prep your cars for service and resale and don’t deviate or spend the proceeds on something else; roll those funds right back into the fleet and, then, repeat.

My sincere appreciation goes to Director Rains and other members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol for their assistance with this article. The years have not diminished my respect and awe of what they would refer to as “just doing our job.”

For further information about the MOSHP resale program or their new garage, visit www.mshp.dps.mo.gov.

Sergeant James Post always welcomes your comments and suggestions. He can be reached at kopkars@arkansas.net.

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