By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman bought 46 vehicles for his office since 2008 with an average city gas consumption of just 13.6 miles per gallon, records show. Gusman has little incentive to buy fuel-efficient vehicles because the City of New Orleans, not Gusman’s office, pays for his office’s gasoline.

City Council Budget Committee chairman Arnie Fielkow drew attention to the issue at a hearing on the sheriff’s budget in March.

“Our whole relationship with the Sheriff’s Office is just bizarre,” Fielkow said. “You’ve got cars being bought by them that we’re providing fuel for.”

The arrangement stems from the terms of a consent decree, the result of a lawsuit filed by the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1969, on behalf of all prisoners at the Orleans Parish Prison. It asked that the city pay the Sheriff’s Office sufficient money to maintain constitutional conditions. The lawsuit resulted in the consent decree, a legally enforceable agreement between the parties.

The main portion of the decree sets the amount that the city pays the sheriff per prisoner, per day. An order establishing the fuel arrangement was added in 1989.

To his credit, Gusman has bought one electric vehicle, a Gem E2 Car. And the four Harley-Davidson police motorcycles he has bought since 2008 for a total of $65,000 get around 54 miles to the gallon in the city, according to a local Harley-Davidson dealer. But the majority of vehicles purchased by Gusman are gas-guzzling Ford Crown Victorias, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Ford and Chevrolet trucks, which get around 14 to 15 miles per gallon in the city.

The criticism is perhaps surprising, coming from Fielkow, who drives a gas-guzzling Ford Expedition courtesy of taxpayers. Likewise, the city has a fleet that has plenty of sport-utility vehicles. But Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently tightened the city’s take home car policy after an investigation by The Lens.

Among the vehicles bought between 2008 and 2011 were one Gem E2 electric car (left) for $8,600; 11 Ford Crown Victorias for about $21,000 each; and one Chevy Silverado truck for $20,000, records show.

Records provided by the sheriff’s office show Gusman bought 52 vehicles between April 1, 2008 and May 13, 2011 for a total of $1.1 million. But a full list of sheriff’s vehicles shows 78 vehicles are 2008 models or more recent. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Marc Ehrhardt did not respond to an email seeking an explanation for the 26-vehicle discrepancy.

In total, the sheriff’s office owns 275 vehicles, but the records make no distinction between marked and unmarked cars. Ehrhardt did not respond to questions asking why Gusman needs unmarked vehicles.

The Sheriff’s Office alsoauctions off vehicles periodically at very reasonable prices, with records showing that $62,155 was raised by auctioning vehicles at the last sale in May 2010.

A glance at four vehicles sold at the auction shows they were let go for between 29 percent and 88 percent below the Kelly Blue Book value for a car with similar mileage in “fair” condition. Ehrhardt did not respond to questions about Gusman’s auction policies or how the office ensures the best return on investment for taxpayers.

CarSold by the sheriff’s office forKelly Blue Book value for “fair” conditioned, no-frills version of this car from a private party.Percentage saving for buyer on Blue Book value
2001 Ford Crown Victoria, 117,504 miles$1600$2,30033 percent
2000 Ford Crown Victoria ,

181,716 miles

$1500$2,11529 percent
2001 Ford Crown Victoria, 110,172 miles$650$3,05078 percent
2007 Chevrolet Malibu, 10,923 miles$1200$10,75088 percent