As more Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department deputies take home their vehicles between shifts, response times to emergency calls are improving, officials say.

That was a big reason behind Sheriff Joe Kennedy’s 2018 push to move to a take-home system, a transition that required the purchase of 10 additional vehicles. That is nearly doubling the previous fleet of 11 vehicles.

County supervisors ultimately signed off on the plan and his request to fund it through money forfeited to the department during investigations.

Some deputies began taking vehicles home between shifts in March as the department’s fleet grew. Once the final three vehicles, purchased this month, arrive, all deputies will be able to take vehicles home.

Already, Kennedy has seen results.

“Just (Oct. 30), we had someone call for help,” he said. “We had a deputy who lived nearby. He was able to get there in six minutes. If it had been a typical call where someone was responding from the (Dubuque Law Enforcement Center), they would have been lucky to have been there in 25 minutes.”

Sgt. Jon Behne also shared a success story.

“We had what was called into us as a broken-down motor vehicle near Luxemburg,” he said. “I was able to call a deputy who lived in the area.”

Behne said those efficiencies help the department save on overtime pay, as well, another benefit Kennedy used last year to convince supervisors.

“It would have been 30 minutes to an hour of overtime we would have had to pay him because he would have had to bring his car back,” Behne said. “This is also going to save money in the long run. Is there going to be some startup cost in the beginning? Sure.”

Those startup costs included $350,000 from the forfeiture fund. Another $150,000 in debt service funds in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 — which ends June 30 — added to the total.

And supervisors this month signed off on $94,950 to acquire the final three vehicles from Galena Chrysler in Galena, Ill. Supervisor Jay Wickham voted against the move, noting that the dealership is outside Dubuque County.

Kennedy said Galena Chrysler included all the features the department has asked for, throwing in a lightbar controller valued at more than $1,000. The company also was easy to work with, he said.

This led to a discussion among supervisors about changing their purchasing policy, which allows purchasing within a 30-mile radius of Dubuque County.

Kennedy noted that the move to take-home vehicles is in line with other Iowa counties. Behne agreed.

“I worked in Benton County in the early 2000s,” Behne said. “They already had take-home cars then. So did Black Hawk County at the time.”

Behne said there were some concerns at first.

“There were some reservations with deputies,” he said. “‘Do I want a sheriff car parked at my house or don’t I? Everybody will know where I live.’ But now that people are used to it, I think everybody is happy we’re changing.”