You're a small department with 10 officers that's adding an investigator's position. Problem is, you need a crime scene vehicle, and you have no money.
Another scenario: Your sheriff's department responsibilities include marine patrol and body search-and-recovery on the waterways. Because of tight budgets, you've always relied upon the state police for boats and divers, but the state has suffered some budget shortfalls. Now you need to equip your recently organized volunteer diving unit with boats, trailers and a dive van. You have no money.
Or: You're a director of public safety in a suburban township near a major city, with responsibility for both police and fire services. You have aging equipment, and you need to get another four-wheel drive grass rig on line. You have no money.
You get the idea. Many departments across the United States possess exactly these problems: significant equipment needs, yet no money. Creative law enforcement and public safety executives have found interesting ways to get what they need without stripping resources from other important areas of municipal and governmental operations.
When you're trying to solve a problem, start by looking for a solution close to home. Most jurisdictions have multiple departments that utilize oversized vehicles, such as vans, step-vans and trucks. Among the best places to find a vehicle that converts to your special needs is one of your other municipal departments.
Keep in mind two things. First, most departments that use vehicles will eventually replace them with newer vehicles. They'll need to dispose of the old ones. They typically do this through an auction, but auctions of this type usually yield very little money. Whether it's because the vehicles have been beat up during the course of their primary duties, or have been cannibalized for parts, there's just not much money in retired municipal vehicles. Rather than accept some small sum that will disappear back into the municipality's general fund, why not repurpose these vehicles to other municipal departments?
Second, while you may remain reluctant to invest repair or conversion money into a vehicle that's already years old, keep in mind it's very likely such an effort will cost less than buying a brand new vehicle. Of course, you'll need to consider the vehicle's condition, but remember, you're not setting up a front-line vehicle, you're creating a special-purpose vehicle. By definition, you use these kinds of vehicles only during infrequent, specialized circumstances. They'll last longer in that role. Consider the difference in longevity between the typical police patrol unit and the typical piece of fire-fighting apparatus. Most police units have a lifespan of 2 4 years, and some much shorter than that, due to daily hard use. On the other hand, a fire apparatus sits in a sheltered environment, and you only take it out for, hopefully, infrequent usage. Fire vehicles can last a decade or more.
In the final analysis, converting a retired ambulance into a dive van, or a city delivery vehicle into a tactical response unit, may prove the most cost-effective way to meet your special needs.
Private & Non-Profit Organizations
Some communities are blessed with large employers or other businesses willing to provide grants to public safety for various purposes. Along with these opportunities, service clubs such as the Elks, Eagles, Optimist Club and others can sometimes provide assistance, either by granting funds or hosting fundraisers. Grants or other funding mechanisms often don't get publicized. You must approach these organizations and ask what's available. Generally, you can do this most effectively through personal contacts with the organization.
When approaching a private enterprise for a grant, such as an insurance company, have a well thought-out plan in place, stipulating how much you need and thoroughly explaining the purpose of your request. Often you'll have to submit a formal written proposal. The more detailed it is, the better your proposal will be received.
One other thing: Consider simply asking businesses in your community for donations. It's not unheard of for auto dealers and other specialized businesses to donate resources to their community. You'll never know if you don't ask.
State, Federal & Military Surplus
You can acquire many items through state, federal and military surplus. Each state has an office that coordinates distribution of state surplus items. Try contacting them through your state department of emergency management.
Frequently, items acquired from a surplus depot are a little the worse for wear, but not always. Many times, they're just extras, leftover items that were still in warehouses when they were replaced with an upgraded model. This is especially true of smaller items, such as spare parts, first-aid supplies and office items.
Usually, vehicles fall into the category of used items that either wore out or were replaced with upgraded models. They may have been stripped of equipment (weapons will always be removed) or cannibalized for parts. Often, though, they are operable, and you can trailer them or drive them out of the depot.
The process for the acquisition of surplus at the state level varies from state to state. The federal system is more standardized. Federal items are moved to depots located throughout the United States and managed by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS). Sometimes, items may not be physically moved to the surplus depot; the DRMS leaves them in place and only transfers them electronically. Start the process of searching for and acquiring specific types of property by visiting the DRMS Web site, and then contact them by phone (see "Contact Info" for the organization's contact information). Let them walk you through the process.
Don't let the expense of a special vehicle or other equipment prevent you from implementing a program your community needs. Try some of these creative funding mechanisms to reach your goals.
Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS)
Tel: 800/352-2255 (24-hour customer service)