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Why idling rules don't apply to Minneapolis police vehicles

Posted by: Tim Harlow Updated: February 13, 2014 - 11:43 AM

Two weeks ago in my weekly Monday column, I reported that Minneapolis has an Anti-Idling Vehicle Ordinance which restricts gas- or diesel-powered vehicles to idling no more than three minutes in a one-hour time period. When temperatures drop below zero that time limit is extended to 15 minutes.

The city also has an ordinance that says that if a vehicle is on a city street, parkway, alley or the equivalent and the keys are in the ignition, the driver must be inside the car or be “in physical control” of it. That means the driver could be standing outside the vehicle, but must be close enough to respond should something unexpected happen.

Readers David Darr and Troy Gourde said they frequently see police cars and county sheriff's vehicles idling without occupants around City Hall in downtown Minneapolis. They asked The Drive if Minneapolis and St. Paul police are held to the same rules, regulations and standards as citizens when it comes to unattended idling cars?

The short answer is no.

St. Paul does not have an Anti-Idling Vehicle Ordinance. In Minneapolis, police vehicles are exempt from the ordinance for a number of reasons, said John Elder, a police department spokesman.

One of the main reasons is that squad cars have lots of electronics that are powered by the battery, and that takes a lot of juice. Turning off the engine each time an officer makes a call could drain the battery, he said. That could compromise public safety if a squad is disabled by a dead battery.

A second reason is that each time the engine is shut off, the squad's computer also shuts off. When the vehicle is restarted, it can take up to four minutes for the computer to reboot. That's precious time that could be lost if an officer doesn't get the call to respond to an incident such as a shooting or car theft, Elder said.

As a reminder to residents and those visiting the city, Minneapolis Police recently put out another warning to residents reminding them not to leave their cars running unattended with the keys in the ignition. (Vehicles with remote starters are exempt if on private property).

It's a common practice in cold weather months as drivers start their vehicles, leave the keys inside, then step inside to get out of the elements while their car warms up. That's an open invitation for crooks to make off with your car, police say.

Since the beginning of 2014, more than 35 vehicles have been stolen in the Third Precinct, which covers neighborhoods in southeast Minneapolis. Even if the car is locked, it only takes a second for a thief to break a window and take off with the vehicle, police said.

If a car is running unattended on a Minneapolis city street, alley, parkway or equivalent and keys are in the ignition, the vehicle owner can be tagged.

In St. Paul, a city ordinance says that anybody leaving a motor vehicle unattended on any street, alley or parking lot “shall lock the ignition, remove the key and take it with him or her.” It also directs any police officer who discovers keys in the ignition of an unattended vehicle, running or otherwise, “to remove the keys and deliver them to the desk officer at the city’s central police station.”

The rules are different for cars parked on private property, such as in residential driveways. In those cases, the driver does not have to be in the car or even near it, but Elder doesn't’t recommend that.

Regardless of location, the rules governing how long a car can idle still apply.

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