The campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, may not be huge as college campuses go, but for the UT Police Department, patrolling campus and the surrounding neighborhoods means covering a lot of miles.
For UTPD, that mileage means money. Each of the vehicles assigned to the department is allotted a certain number of miles each month, and if it goes over, the fee charged to the department is hefty — a dollar per mile.
In fact, the demands of patrol so consistently took the vehicles over their assigned mileage that the department’s overage charges add up to more than $110,000 each year.
That’s where Rupy Sawhney comes in. A professor of industrial engineering, Sawhney and his staff and students work with corporations and governments around the state and the nation helping them become more efficient and effective in their operations.
Sawhney’s group has been hired by the chancellor’s office with the support of the College of Engineering and the industrial engineering department to find ways to make the campus operate more effectively and efficiently in light of recent budget cuts, and they saw a great opportunity in the UTPD patrol vehicles.
"We often talk about the fact that efficiency doesn’t have to come at the expense of service," said Sawhney. "That’s especially important with a group like the police department, whose work is vital to campus safety."
Working with UTPD Chief August Washington and Capt. Jeff Severs, Sawhney’s students have helped the department modernize the way it tracks mileage and assigns vehicles each day for patrol, and in the process trimmed nearly a third from the department’s vehicle budget.
They found that in any given month, only some of the department’s vehicles went over their assigned mileage, while others were well under. That meant that the department’s overall mileage was not being spread evenly across the available vehicles, said Severs.
The solution was as simple as the colors on a traffic light. The department now hangs vehicle keys on a board with green, yellow and red sections. If a vehicle is more than 200 miles away from its monthly allowance, its keys are in the green section. If it’s within 200 miles of its allowance, the keys are in the yellow, meaning they can only be assigned to an officer for the day after the green are completely gone. Finally, cars over their allotment have their keys in the red zone.
At the start of a shift, the first cars assigned come from the green, then the yellow — the red cars are only used if needed to fulfill the needs of the patrol.
According to Sawhney, the new plan, which went into effect this October, can save UTPD almost $80,000 each year. It’s just the beginning of ways that the process of keeping campus safe can become more efficient, according to Severs.
"This has really been a positive," he said. "It’s a process that makes you think differently about how you do your job, and how you can do it better."