In tough times, LE tech vendors offer financing

Buying a new squad car – or a fleet of them – for your department today may prove difficult, but one automobile company is looking into the future and preparing for the time when agencies will upgrade their vehicles. Stacy Dean Stephens, Co-Founder and Sales Development Manager for Carbon Motors Corporation, tells Police1 that his company does not expect to be delivering the new E7 to police agencies until 2012, and consequently has not petitioned for any types of grants through which the vehicles might be financed.

“We’re actively working to build a vehicle that will save agencies money over the entire lifecycle of the vehicle,” Stephens says. “We’re not looking at it at this point – of course we will at some point down the road – as a question of new, creative ways of financing. We’re looking at it from the perspective of agencies spending too much money as it is today. Stop wasting your money on 8-12 miles per gallon; stop wasting money on vehicles that we never designed, engineered or manufactured for police work, and let’s figure out a way to build the safest and most cost -efficient vehicle available. All of our efforts are targeted around those two key factors – officer safety and reducing the burden on taxpayers.”  (Photo courtesy of Carbon Motors)

Tax revenues – especially those drawn from sales and real estate transfers – in cities, states, and small towns throughout the country have been decreasing in the past year, and a consensus of financial forecasts show much of the same for the near term. As a consequence of shortfalls in local coffers – which began to adversely affect local governments in 2006 and 2007 with nation’s real estate downturn and continue with an economy that “officially” entered recession a few weeks ago – capital spending on everything from squad cars to the mobile notebook computers installed within them may be among the things that come under tough budgetary scrutiny in 2009.

Further, the credit crisis that began with the sub-prime mortgage mess in 2006-2007 and in 2008 shuttered dozens of banks and all but frozen the credit market, has put up additional roadblocks for departments seeking to acquire the best technologies to place in the hands of their crime fighters on the streets.

In response to this, one technology company in particular has taken steps in early 2009 to enable agencies to proceed with plans to upgrade their officers’ ability to keep up with technology advances. Panasonic Computer Solutions Company, manufacturer of Toughbook mobile computers, recently announced a new set of lease and payment options meant to keep help agencies keep up with technology advances despite tightening budgets. Those options – which include “zero percent” leasing for 36 months, step payments, flexible payments, and deferral and lease-back programs for up to 60 months –are being made available as part of the company’s longstanding relationship with Panasonic Finance Solutions, provided by CoActiv Partners.

“Our customers continue to struggle with the economy—specifically, our public safety and state and local government customers are being impacted by reduced revenues from taxes or other income, yet they need to continue to invest in new technology,” Jim King, Vice President of Operations for Panasonic Computer Solutions Company, told Police1 in an exclusive interview. “They need to make sure that their police officers are able to continue to be successful in their missions and get their jobs done. So we came up with new financing programs to help them continue to invest in their equipment and invest in the best equipment to help them be successful in their missions.”

King says that the program was conceived out of individual conversations with the company’s customers – Panasonic tells Police1 that the company has more that 5,000 police department customers, a number of which operate the iconic Toughbook 30 clamshell laptop and Toughbook 19 convertible tablet computer in their vehicles.

Anytown, USA
Lakewood, Wash. is a military town near Fort Lewis and McCord Air Force base with a population of roughly 60,000 people. Incorporated as a city for just about 12 years, for the first few years the city contracted with Pierce County for its police force. Lakewood started a police force in 2005, and as a new force has had make some substantial purchases to gear up its 100 officers. The city has done a number of very creative things to contain costs.

“Public safety is a priority in Lakewood,” Jeff Bewster of the Lakewood Police Department tells Police1 in an exclusive interview. “We’re a pretty new city, and having a way for our officers to qualify with their weapons has been a challenge at times. Lakewood is building a new police station with a range in the basement that enables its officers to practice Situational awareness, moving targets. The other thing we’re doing to save costs is that we placed the new police station next to the school bus barn so we can all get fuel at the bulk rate.”

Brewster says that another challenge has been to achieve its objectives for public safety even as a drop in real estate excise taxes and sales taxes led the city to making a $1.1M adjustment in the annual budget last year. Early last year the council approved an arrangement in which the city would lease 60 Toughbook notebook computers for $116K for three years—their plan is to lease 15 more computers this year. That’s enabled the city to spread the costs over several years. This long-term purchasing arrangement has enabled the force to get up to speed on its mobile data capabilities without having to make a difficult one-time outlay in cash.

“The unique laptop designed to take a lot of abuse in the vehicle, and do far we’re pretty happy—our information technology guys say they’ve only had a couple instances in which they’ve seen laptops come back for a repair.” This, Bewster says, is another important cost savings, one which offsets the comparatively higher hardware acquisition costs associated with rugged computers than those associated with “standard” mobile computers.

Panasonic says that ongoing maintenance, replacement, and downtime costs associated with commercial-grade hardware solutions are almost universally higher. As a result, commercial-grade solutions can cost considerably more to operate over the life of the device. Conversely, Panasonic says that high reliability, longer-term ownership, and high residual/resale values help customers negotiate better lease terms through fair market value buy-back programs available from companies such as PlanITROI, an end-of-life information technology asset management company.

“In these economic conditions, it is more important than ever for companies to understand the total cost of ownership and return on investment when making technology purchase decisions. Financing options help make the case for putting the right technology in the hands of remote users,” said one industry analyst in a recent Panasonic press release.

Hundreds of agencies across the United States are taking steps similar to those being undertaken in Lakewood. If your department has a story to tell about cost-saving measures, please let us know.

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