CROWN POINT | About 120 Lake police officers who drive home their county-owned squad cars are in the middle of a struggle among county officials over how much freedom they should have to drive the vehicles.
The three members of the Lake County Board of Commissioners recently issued a policy forbidding county employees, including police officers, from driving county-owned vehicles on personal errands, to sporting events or restaurants while not on duty.
They also prohibit officers using county squad cars while working a second job off duty or to transport family members, except in cases of emergency.
It orders all police officers living outside Lake County or officers who are still on probationary status to park their take-home cars immediately.
Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said the new policy is an effort to reduce the county's liability in traffic accidents as well as tax dollars on unnecessary fuel use and wear and tear on county-owned vehicle.
Lake Sheriff John Buncich, who only learned of the policy Tuesday, said Thursday it shouldn't apply to merit police officers, who have to respond to emergency calls 24 hours a day.
"The policy will cripple a lot of our operations. (Wednesday), I sent my chief over to talk to Commissioner (Gerry) Scheub and Commissioner (Roosevelt) Allen and they have removed that ban on merit officers having to park their cars. Civilian employees in corrections and work-release are still restricted."
However, Allen, said Thursday the restrictions still stand on forbidding take-home cars being used on non-emergency off-duty trips and forbidding officers from transporting family members or anyone who isn't a county employee or private contractor on county business.