Use of County-Owned Vehicles

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This directive is for internal use only and does not enlarge an employee’s civil liability in any way. The directive should not be construed as creating a higher duty of care, in an evidentiary sense, with respect to third party civil claims against employees. Violations of this directive, if proven, can only form the basis of a complaint by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office for non-judicial administrative action in accordance with the rules and laws governing employee discipline.
DIRECTIVE TYPE: POLICY SUBJECT: Use of County-Owned Vehicles NUMBER: OPER-320.01
APPROVED BY: Sheriff Ken Christesen EFFECTIVE DATE: 11/15/2016
NMLEA STANDARDS: Not Applicable LAST MODIFIED: 11/15/2016 LAST REVIEW: 11/15/2016


PURPOSE:


This policy establishes uniform guidelines for the use of county-owned vehicles by San Juan County Sheriff’s Office personnel.


POLICY:


The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office will provide county-owned vehicles to select Sheriff’s Office personnel for the purpose of performing work-related duties on an as-needed basis. The rules for using county-owned vehicles and expected driver conduct will be uniformly applied to all Sheriff’s Office personnel. Upon availability, and with the approval of the Sheriff, a take-home vehicle will be assigned to eligible personnel. Participation in the take-home vehicle program is a privilege and not a right. Failure to comply with the parameters set forth in this policy may result in a loss of that privilege.


DEFINITIONS:


The following definitions shall apply for the purposes of this policy:


  • County-Owned Vehicle – Any motor vehicle owned by San Juan County.


  • Sheriff’s Office Personnel/Employee – Any employee, reserve deputy, or designated volunteer of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office


  • Sheriff’s Office Primary Jurisdictional Area – For the purpose of take-home vehicles, this includes the unincorporated areas of San Juan County where law enforcement services are delivered by the Sheriff’s Office and the municipalities of Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington, and Kirtland. Land belonging to the Navajo Nation is not included in the Sheriff’s Office primary jurisdictional area.


  • Take-Home Vehicle – A county-owned vehicle in which eligible personnel are allowed to drive the vehicle to, and park at, their personal residence during non-working hours.


PROCEDURE:


COUNTY-OWNED VEHICLES - GENERAL


All Sheriff’s Office personnel who operate a county-owned vehicle shall possess a valid driver’s license issued within the United States and with the proper classification required for the vehicle being operated. Any personnel whose duties include the operation of a motor vehicle and whose license is suspended or revoked, for any reason, may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Aside from requiring a different classification of license and/or endorsements, certain county-owned vehicles such as, but not limited to, the aviation fuel tanker, MRAP, 15 passenger vans, and the command post, may require specialized training prior to operation. No employee shall operate these vehicles without first obtaining the required licensure and/or training. Nothing in this policy prohibits an employee from driving one of these vehicles in exigent circumstances that amount to a risk of death or great bodily harm.

Sheriff’s Office personnel who operate a county-owned vehicle shall comply with all motor vehicle laws and regulations. Failure to comply may result in disciplinary action and the loss of privileges. If an employee is stopped by law enforcement for a traffic violation or other offense while driving a county-owned or take-home vehicle, he or she shall report the situation to their immediate supervisor.

County-owned vehicles operated by Sheriff’s Office personnel will only be utilized to transport county employees and other persons directly related to Sheriff’s Office business. Exceptions are limited to the following parameters:

  • Personnel may, on occasion, transport adult guests in their county-owned vehicle for the purpose of attending Sheriff’s Office related functions associated with their assigned duties.
  • Personnel assigned unmarked units and who are subject to being on-call may, during on-call periods, utilize, with discretion, their county-owned vehicle for routine personal business, and transport adult guests, allowing for more efficient response times. As such, during these times, personnel will be properly dressed and fully equipped for immediate callout responses. This provision does not authorize the transportation of minor guests or children in a county-owned vehicle.
  • Any adult guest being transported in a county-owned vehicle will be dropped off when the employee must respond to any callout. If the guest has to be driven out of the way to be taken home or to a drop-off location, the purpose of this privilege is defeated and the transportation of such guests is not allowed.


No person, other than those defined as Sheriff’s Office personnel, will operate a county-owned vehicle. Any exception occurring as a result of necessity or an emergency must be reported to the employee’s immediate supervisor.


Sheriff’s Office personnel who use or are assigned a county-owned or take-home vehicle are responsible for providing proper security of the vehicle during non-working hours. It is also his or her responsibility to ensure the scheduling of routine and normal vehicle maintenance. Regular vehicle inspections should be conducted to detect any safety issues or damage. Maintenance and vehicle inspection guidelines are covered in the Sheriff’s Office Vehicle Maintenance Policy.


DAMAGE TO COUNTY-OWNED VEHICLES


If a county-owned vehicle is damaged from a crash related incident, local law enforcement and the employee’s immediate supervisor should be immediately contacted to notify him or her of the incident. In the event an immediate supervisor is unreachable, the on-duty Sheriff’s Office patrol supervisor should be contacted. All crash related incidents involving Sheriff’s Office personnel and a county-owned vehicle will be investigated and documented pursuant to the Sheriff’s Office Accident Review Process Policy.


If a county-owned vehicle is damaged from a non-crash related incident, the employee’s immediate supervisor should be immediately contacted to notify him or her of the damage. In the event an immediate supervisor is unreachable, the on-duty Sheriff’s Office patrol supervisor should be contacted.


In either case, a unit damage report describing the circumstances in which the vehicle was damaged should be submitted within twenty-four (24) hours from the time the damage occurs.


Upon receiving notification of damage to a county-owned vehicle, the supervisor will respond to the location where the damage occurred. The supervisor is responsible for photographing the damage to the county-owned vehicle; investigating the circumstances surrounding the damage to the vehicle; and within twenty-four (24) hours, forward a supervisory supplement of his or her findings and the original unit damage report to the Sheriff, through the chain-of-command.


Damaged vehicles require inspection by the Support Services Lieutenant as soon as possible to ensure that the unit is safe to operate and, if needed, make arrangements for repairs. If a vehicle suffers disabling damage, or is clearly unsafe to operate, the Sheriff’s Office mechanics or a tow truck should respond to the location for removal. The County Risk Manager will be notified regarding any damage to a county-owned vehicle. This is usually completed by the Support Services Lieutenant.


TAKE-HOME VEHICLES


The purpose of issuing eligible employees take-home vehicles is to promote and enhance public safety within San Juan County through the increased presence of police vehicles and decreased response times for employees frequently called out for emergency situations.


ELIGIBILITY


Regulations mandated by the Internal Revenue Service require that the issuance of take-home vehicles be limited to only personnel who are on an on-call status.


The assignment of take-home vehicles will always be subject to the current availability of vehicles and budgetary limitations. For assignment purposes, priority will be given to the operational needs of the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff or his designee will have the final authority in determining this need. The following personnel are eligible for assignment of a take-home vehicle:

  • All certified Sheriff’s Deputies,
  • Forensic Technicians, and
  • Other positions the Sheriff designates as essential and/or subject to call out.


Any employee who resides outside of the Sheriff’s Office primary jurisdictional area will be ineligible for a take-home vehicle. These employees may still be issued a vehicle for work purposes but will not be allowed to travel to and from their residence with the vehicle. The Sheriff may approve exceptions on an individual basis.


A deputy who resides outside of the Sheriff’s Office primary jurisdictional area may, with approval from the Sheriff, drive their issued vehicle to, and park at, another deputy’s residence, so long as that residence is within the primary jurisdictional area and the other deputy agrees to the arrangement.


When the need arises, an employee may be temporarily authorized to park a county-owned vehicle at his or her residence, such as a civilian employee leaving early or returning late on a work-related trip. In these cases, all of the parameters regarding a take-home vehicle will apply.


GUIDELINES


Assignment of a take-home vehicle shall be limited to Sheriff’s Office employees who meet the eligibility criteria and who agree to park the vehicle at their residence. The Sheriff may approve exceptions on an individual basis.


All policies, procedures, and orders of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office that govern vehicle use, unless specifically stated otherwise, apply to off-duty deputies.


USE OF TAKE-HOME VEHICLE WHILE OFF-DUTY


The take-home vehicle is principally used for transportation to and from duty assignment locations and home. The vehicle may also be used for transportation to and from:

  • Sheriff’s Office facilities to report for regular duty, Sheriff’s Office related meetings, and other assigned duties,
  • court and other related hearings,
  • vehicle maintenance and cleaning,
  • Sheriff’s Office approved activities,
  • community meetings and events being attended on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office,
  • approved training,
  • physical fitness training at a local facility,
  • local college courses, and
  • incidental errands when traveling to and from work. (Personnel should use discretion in the nature and scope of errands conducted.)


When using a take-home vehicle off-duty, employees will:

  • conduct themselves in a manner which reflects favorably on the Sheriff’s Office and their position as an employee of the Sheriff’s Office,
  • wear clothing that is appropriate for representing the Sheriff’s Office. Sworn employees will wear clothing that is appropriate for conducting law enforcement business in the event immediate action must be taken as outlined below. While gym/workout clothing is acceptable, sandals, flip-flops, and other non-closed toe shoes are prohibited.
  • be armed with an issued or approved firearm, carry handcuffs, a badge, and a department identification card (sworn employees), and
  • monitor police radio traffic (sworn employees).


Because many off-duty deputies operating take-home vehicles do not wear a protective vest, vehicle stops should not be made for minor traffic infractions. However, nothing in this policy prohibits a vehicle stop should a deputy observe a violation and determine that a stop should be made in the best interest of citizen safety and to preserve order. In these cases, off-duty deputies must be able to safely don a protective vest prior to the initiation of the vehicle stop. This mandate will satisfy the requirements set forth in the Sheriff’s Office Uniform & Appearance Policy. An on-duty deputy or officer from the appropriate jurisdiction should be requested to take over any necessary investigation. If deputies become involved in an emergency situation while off duty, they will be subject to all Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures related to the situation.


An off-duty deputy in a take-home vehicle who encounters a traffic crash or a disabled vehicle shall notify dispatch and render whatever assistance is required to stabilize the situation until an on-duty deputy can respond.


UNAUTHORIZED USE OF TAKE-HOME VEHICLE WHILE OFF-DUTY


Employees are prohibited from using take-home vehicles under the following circumstances:

  • to transport minor guests or children (supervisors may temporarily override this prohibition, however, specific authorization will be required prior to each transport),
  • to travel to, from, or during secondary employment,
  • to conduct personal business,
  • while under the influence, or impaired to the slightest degree, of any alcohol or drug,
  • while under influence of a prescription or over-the-counter drug that would impair the ability of the driver to operate the vehicle, or
  • in a manner or at a location which may reflect negatively on the Sheriff’s Office.


OFF-DUTY PARKING


Take-home vehicles will be parked at the employee’s residence during off-duty hours. Unattended vehicles shall be locked at all times and no keys will be left inside the vehicle. Firearms that remain in the vehicle must be locked in a weapons rack or secured in the trunk.


Employees are responsible for providing a safe environment for county-owned vehicles when parked at their residence. Damages occurring that are determined not to be accidental in nature or those which present the likelihood of re-occurring may result in take-home privileges being revoked until satisfactory action has been proven to prevent further damage. This decision will be made on a case-by-case basis by the Sheriff. Per San Juan County Employee Handbook, Section 5.8, the cost of damages occurring due to negligence may be deducted from the employee’s net pay.


Take-home vehicles will be returned and stored at the Sheriff’s Office during periods of extended leave, (defined as more than two weeks), when the vehicle will not be monitored on a regular basis by the employee, or if the employee is on administrative leave.


Employees on light duty will not be assigned a take-home vehicle and will park their issued vehicle at the Sheriff’s Office. If their condition (limitations and prescribed medications) do not prohibit such, and their light duty assignment requires driving from the Sheriff’s Office or main county complex, they will have access to an unmarked vehicle for those specific tasks.


REVOCATION


As previously stated, the Sheriff’s Office take-home vehicle program is a privilege, not a right. The assignment of a take-home vehicle requires employees to adhere to the Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures. Violations of the policies and procedures may result in a revocation or suspension as part of the disciplinary process.


ADMINISTRATIVE:


TRAINING


Any employee who may utilize a county-owned vehicle will be required to attend a defensive driving course as soon as practical upon employment. Furthermore, any employee issued a take-home vehicle, or who may utilize a county-owned vehicle will receive a copy of this policy and must acknowledge understanding of the terms within.


As part of an employee’s annual evaluation, a driver’s license check will be conducted to ensure an acceptable driver’s record has been maintained. In the event an employee is found to have an unacceptable driving record, based on severity and frequency, disciplinary action may be imposed pursuant to the Sheriff’s Office Disciplinary Procedure Policy.


CROSS REFERENCES:


  1. SJCSO Policy OPER-321.00 “Vehicle Maintenance”
  2. SJCSO Policy ADMN-112.00 “Accident Review Process”
  3. SJCSO Policy PERS-510.00 “Uniform & Appearance”
  4. SJCSO Policy PERS-519.00 “Light Duty”
  5. San Juan County Employee Handbook; Section 5.8 – Responsibility for County Property
  6. SJCSO Policy PERS-500.00 “Disciplinary Procedures”
  7. IRS “Quick Reference Guide for Public Employers” (Feb. 2013)