Departmental budget cuts could cost dozens of San Diego police detectives the use of 'take-home' vehicles.
Nearly 90 plainclothes investigators are assigned unmarked vehicles around the clock.
Police officials are evaluating mileage and maintenance costs and other factors to determine whether they're really necessary.
The issue is now on the table in city contract talks with the San Diego Police Officers Association (SDPOA).
Rank-and-file detectives are upset not only about the prospect of losing their take-home cars -- but indications that more than 80 'management types' will get to keep theirs.
"By allowing someone to have a take-home car, it cut down on the overtime," says Bill Nemec, a director and immediate past president of the SDPOA.
In an interview Thursday, Nemec recounted the history of how investigators in homicide, robbery, gangs, narcotics and auto theft were first assigned unmarked department cars about a quarter-century ago.
"The officers were into the scene, did their investigation and responded to critical incidents," Nemec said. "They took care of the business they needed to take care of, and they were home."
But the recession and city budget deficits have prompted the Department to look for cuts.
And detectives' take-home' vehicles are prime candidates.
Although, apparently, not those driven by the top brass, a legal advisor and administrator.
The reasoning for assigning a lot of take-home vehicles to management personnel, according to one police official, is that they're part of contractual agreements, and often used in off-duty community outreach events.
The 'rank-and-file' scoff at that.
They want to see cost-benefit comparisons involving vehicle use and overtime, along with objective criteria for deciding which detectives really need take-homes, and which don't.
"Unfortunately, this issue has been demagogued to a certain extent," Nemec says. "Emotions have come into play -- 'We need and want these cuts right now' -- without looking at the consequences of what these cuts may mean.
"The public's going to have to realize that part of these cost-cutting measures may mean the officers will not be at the scene of the crime, starting the investigation right after it occurred."
A department spokesman insists no final, system-wide decisions have been made.
But knowledgeable sources say some auto theft detectives have already given up their 'take-homes' because of what their captains see as a limited need to have them on standby or callback status.