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Repairs could cost up to $400K after Portland PD arson

Because orders for next year were submitted before the cruisers were burned, the Portland Police Bureau must wait until 2025 to order the 2026 models as replacements

By Sujena Soumyanath
oregonlive.com

PORTLAND, Ore. — The cost to repair and replace 17 Portland police cars set on fire in May is expected to top $400,000, the Police Bureau said. But supply-chain delays and a narrow ordering window, more than the price tag, could keep the bureau from fully replenishing its fleet until 2026.

The parked police cars were set ablaze in the early-morning hours of May 2 at a training facility on Northeast Airport Way, according to police. Eight cars were totaled by the fires and nine needed repairs, said Michael Roy, who manages the city’s fleet.

No arrests have been made, and an arson investigation is ongoing, police said.

The city expects to pay $100,000 to meet its insurance deductible, with its insurance carrier covering most of the rest of the cost to repair and replace the cars, Roy said.

Replacing police cars tends to be a drawn-out process because it’s a “niche market,” said Mt. Angel Police Chief Mark Daniel, who is the president of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police.

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“There are significant differences between a consumer model and a police version,” he said.

Daniel pointed to police cars having a more robust suspension, specifically-engineered tires and a heavy-duty alternator to generate more electricity for added electronic items like two-way radios and emergency lighting.

Once cars are delivered to a police department, they get still more additions unique to their purpose. “Upfitting” companies add equipment like bars to separate the backseat area from the front seat, Daniel added.

The result is a much more expensive car than a typical consumer vehicle, according to Roy. He said a 2023 Ford police interceptor utility vehicle cost around $70,000 after upfitting — significantly more than the consumer car version. The base model for a 2023 Ford Explorer costs just over $36,000, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Before Portland can spend the money to replace the destroyed cars, however, it has to get in line.

Car manufacturers, focused on production for the consumer market, only open their order banks for police cars at certain times every year, Roy said. They do this to make sure they have enough parts and can meet demand in a timely fashion, among other reasons.

Because orders for next year already were submitted before the police cars were burned in May, the Portland Police Bureau must wait until 2025 to order the 2026 models as replacements, Portland police spokesperson Mike Benner said. The bureau often waits two or more years for replacements to be delivered, he added.

Problems caused by the pandemic also continue to make the police-car procurement and budgeting processes challenging, said Daniel, the Mt. Angel chief. There’s been a “significant and sharp increase in vehicle prices” and difficulty getting equipment like light bars for the top of police cars and controllers to generate the sound of the siren.

“All those things are taking significant amounts of time to deliver,” he said.

Once cars go to one of the three upfitting companies the city of Portland uses, potential delays continue, Benner added. Labor and supply shortages still affect the upfitting industry and can slow down the work.

But even with these issues, the Portland Police Bureau is regularly receiving new police cars, purchased in orders it submitted before the May 2 fires, Roy said.

Thanks to the regular flow of new purchases and the city already holding contingency cars, the bureau will not face a shortage of police cars as it waits to order replacements for the burned ones, he said. But it will take some time to catch up to its ongoing needs in future ordering cycles.

“The [cars destroyed by the fires] took away from our planned schedule for replacement,” Roy said.

The city is now navigating insurance claims and a recovering auto industry as it attempts to get that schedule back on track. Daniel described the replacement task in front of officials for Oregon’s largest city as “a monumental thing, even for Portland.”

As he puts it, “Being able to afford a car one way or another and actually acquiring it are sometimes completely different things.”

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