Pump Prices: The Rising Price Of Safety

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Along with sunshine, summer days herald increased traffic and higher prices at the pump. Inflated gas prices affect not only travelers, but also policemen who ensure the safety of Arizona's roadways.

Higher gas bills that result from additional patrols during heavy summer traffic is a Catch-22, said Sgt. Rod Mamero of the Payson Police Department.

"When we can, we patrol, and we don't let gas prices deter us from doing our job," Mamero said. "People expect service."

Last year, Arizona's Department of Public Safety purchased about $4.9 million in gas, 70 percent of which was attributed to highway patrol officers, said Sgt. Tim Mason, public information officer for Arizona DPS. Of the total gas purchased, $2.3 million was spent from May to September.

During the same five months, Payson DPS spent about $10,650 on fuel, an average of $2,130 monthly, said Payson DPS Sgt. John Whetten.

"We average 14 miles to the gallon with our Ford Expeditions and Crown Victorias," Whetten said. "If there's an accident, we have to leave them idling, so we don't get as good of mileage as you think."

From May to September 2006, the seven officers of Payson DPS drove a combined total of about 58,000 miles, an average of 387 miles per day.

Whetten said he tries to schedule patrols at times when he anticipates traffic to be thick.

"Starting on Friday, I bolster up from noon till midnight," Whetten said. "My heaviest time for accidents is Sunday afternoon, when everybody's coming home from camping and they're tired."

DPS officers fill up at Arizona Department of Transportation pumps statewide, where prices are roughly 3 to 4 percent less than commercial prices, Mason said.

"We have credit cards to use at any gas station," Whetten said, "but we get gas from our state pumps, where we're constantly being asked to fill up."

In June 2007, the average fuel price at a state pump was $2.81 per gallon, Mason said. A year before that, the price was about $2.63 per gallon.

As of July 12, 2007, the average price per gallon of regular unleaded gas in Arizona was $2.90, more than 10 cents below the national average of $3.03, according to AAA Arizona's Fuel Gauge.

Under a contract with a private vendor, the Payson Police Department receives an undisclosed discount on gas for buying a certain number of gallons per month, Mamero said.

"There is an inherent cost in the business of public safety that we try to plan for, while understanding events are going to happen that we can't predict," Mamero said.

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