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The Fort Bragg Police Department is replacing half its fleet with 2023 Ford F150 Lightning Pro SSVs as standard patrol vehicles.

Fort Bragg Police Department

Fort Bragg Police Department leads the charge with EV patrol vehicles

Chief Neil Cervenka outlines key considerations from his agency’s journey toward an electric police fleet

By Chief Neil J. Cervenka

Mary Shelley writes in her renowned novel, “Frankenstein,” that “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” This quote is a stunningly accurate translation of the relatable discomfort that a major transition causes within police departments.

In the fall of 2022, the Fort Bragg Police Department on the north coast of California committed to the use of electric vehicles (EVs). Many agencies across the nation have been testing EVs for several years now. Fort Bragg took the major initiative to replace half its fleet with 2023 Ford F150 Lightning Pro SSVs as standard patrol vehicles.

Fort Bragg has a population of about 7,200, a figure that can double or sometimes triple with tourists. The Fort Bragg Police Department has 17 sworn positions from chief through officer, so the patrol fleet consists of eight marked vehicles. According to the US Department of Justice, about 73% of all local police departments in the United States had 24 or fewer officers in 2018. Fort Bragg Police Department sits comfortably in that size group and may be a good test case for many other agencies. Changing 50% of any fleet — even one with only eight marked patrol cars — brings some fear and trepidation, especially when suddenly transitioning to something so new.


Bring your outfitters into the conversation early. Our Lightning was the first one in the region to be built as a police vehicle. If you plan to use a non-traditional EV platform as a patrol vehicle, it may require some parts to be custom fit.

Fort Bragg Police Department

Decisions, decisions

When I became chief in Fort Bragg, I learned the city council and city fleet manager were also EV fans and I had a lot of support. A few years ago, the city council prioritized transitioning all city-owned vehicles from gasoline to electric. Thankfully, my desire to transition to EV police vehicles aligned with my new community.

Currently, we plan to have a fully electric patrol fleet within the next two to three years. I know a few other agencies are using EVs as standard patrol vehicles, but I am confident we are in the “early adopter” category. We have four F150 Lightning EV police trucks in standard service, with a fifth on order. This implementation has provided us with the ability to learn and gain knowledge about transitioning to electric police vehicles.

The first step in this process was deciding on the appropriate vehicle. Ford Motor Company informed me the F150 Lightning Pro SSV was going to be released in the fall of 2022. I had never used a pickup for patrol work, nor had any of the officers in Fort Bragg, but it made sense for many reasons. Pickups offer four-wheel drive, high ground clearance, lots of storage, towing capability, and a truck bed to put in bicycles, shopping carts, or whatever else an officer may encounter during their shift.

Another advantage was the gasoline Ford F150 was already a police vehicle, so aftermarket parts would not need to be customized as may be required with other EVs. In addition, the prisoner area is very large and is accommodating to persons of many sizes more readily. While the Police1 Guide to Patrol Vehicle Electrification listed the Lightning as a “specialty vehicle,” I would disagree and list it in the “patrol” category. Field testing of this vehicle has been marvelous. There are many options in EVs now and I recommend going out to the agencies using them to ask questions. I encourage sharing knowledge as departments continue to explore these options in their communities.

Funding the dream

Fort Bragg was awarded a USDA grant for vehicles and utilized the budgeted funds to allow us to order four new Lightning trucks instead of two gasoline Explorers. In hindsight, selecting and ordering EVs was the easiest part. Charging infrastructure was the most difficult.

Thankfully, we have some very intelligent folks in Public Works who were able to leverage the fact we are a “disadvantaged” and “rural” community to get more grant dollars than are available to other locations. It also helps that we are arguably located in one of the most beautiful spots on the West Coast, so funding for an environmentally friendly vehicle program was favored.

We discovered the PG&E Fleet Program, which provides the infrastructure — wires, transformers, trenching, etc., — for four EV chargers installed at our police department. We will have two level 3 and two level 2 chargers. This is a huge time and money-saving part of the project. Officers will be able to plug in their vehicles when they are at the station. Officers often spend 20-30 minutes filing paperwork, taking a break, or running cases by their sergeant, so they will be able to plug in during this time. No longer will officers need to drive across town to fill up a gasoline patrol vehicle, which creates efficiency during the shift.

“We have discovered it is not necessary to charge the vehicles every day.”

However, the biggest problem we have encountered is locating a step-down transformer needed for the chargers. These transformers reduce the voltage from the main power line to one capable of being used to charge an EV. Due to supply chain issues, they are 12 months out in production. We will probably be using these EV trucks for a year on patrol before having true chargers at the police department. Until then, 220V outlets were installed near the parking area and we are using Level 1 chargers for now. Officers plug in the truck at the end of their shift and it is 100% the next day.

We have also discovered it is not necessary to charge the vehicles every day. We are a small city and it is common for officers to drive the trucks for two or three 12-hour shifts without charging them. Of course, using the heated seats and the heater on high all night affects the battery life and usually means a daily charge.

First failure

We sent two sergeants to a recruitment fair in Sacramento and asked them to take one of the new F150 Lightning police trucks to attract some attention. This seemed like a good idea until it all went sideways.

Our captain got a panicked call from the sergeants, who said they thought the charger they found on their route would only take 30 minutes, but it was charging at such a low rate it would have taken several hours. They had already missed the window to set up at the fair, so the reason for the trip was now moot. After moving to another charger, they got enough power to get home.

This setback caused some officers and deputies to call our EV program a “failed experiment” and that the EVs would not be good police cars. In actuality, the failure was mine. I provided no guidance or instruction and just assumed the sergeants would do the same research I did. The difference between a Level 3 charger and a Level 1 charger is huge and knowing how to find each one is important. In this perceived failure, I knew we would be able to correct this previously unforeseen issue of education along with implementation, but I felt the momentum of moving to an electric fleet slipping away. If the officers had no faith in them, I may have had to consider discontinuing the program.

Walk the walk

A couple of days after the failed trip to Sacramento, I spoke with a Ford representative who wanted one of our Lightning police trucks at the CopsWest law enforcement expo in Ontario, California. It was about 600 miles from Fort Bragg. I felt this was the perfect opportunity to prove the viability of this EV platform and agreed to bring one of the trucks down. In fact, I agreed to drive it there myself to demonstrate my confidence in the platform. One of the sergeants from the recruitment fair was also going to CopsWest. I offered for him to fly there, but he requested to drive with me in the EV, either to prove me wrong or to redeem himself.

This excursion resulted in a real-time review of the F150 Lightning as a police vehicle on a long-distance trip. We even decided to post videos and photos of our road trip on our department’s social media pages. Historically, our most popular social media posts get a few hundred likes and maybe a couple dozen comments. That was until we combined the words “police” and “EVs.” Our “reach” on Facebook skyrocketed 790% to 1.8 million with over 8,500 comments. Of course, not all comments were positive, and to say we found a “troll hole” would be an understatement. Some heated battles started between folks commenting. The viral posts did, however, find their way to others in law enforcement who are considering moving to EVs. Many commented about how we showed up in their social media feeds and began following us.

The roundtrip to CopsWest was uneventful. We plugged the destination into the truck’s navigation system. It plotted the fastest route with charger stops and let us know how long we would need to stay at each charger. We selected the option for only Level 3 fast chargers, which required us to stop three times for about a half hour each time. We got to speak with a lot of people who were curious about an EV police vehicle. The trip became a great and unexpected icebreaker and community connection tool.

With a 1,200-mile trip complete, faith in the program was restored. Officers stopped worrying about range and simply began doing police work again. Our jail is about 90 minutes away, across a few mountain ranges. It is a 110-mile round trip. Initially, officers did not want to chance taking an EV on the trip, but now it is common. The F150 Lightning Pro has standard regenerative braking, which means the battery is charged when the brakes are applied. The trip to our jail involves a lot of braking, so the battery is constantly being recharged. The 110-mile round trip uses about 40% of the battery. When the level 3 chargers are installed, it will only take 25 minutes to recharge them, which is far less than what a report will take to write.

Lessons learned

Infrastructure is our biggest issue right now. Had everything arrived as originally planned, our program would have been much smoother. I have a great deal of respect for my officers who adapted quickly and understood the problems were not internal and were completely out of our control. The advantage to the delay of installing the chargers is that when they do get here, the program will flourish with 20-30 minute charges instead of six-hour charges.

Bring your outfitters into the conversation early. Our Lightning was the first one in the region to be built as a police vehicle. If you plan to use a non-traditional EV platform as a patrol vehicle, it may require some parts to be custom fit. Thankfully, the F150 gas and electric are the same dimensions, so the multitude of aftermarket parts fit.

Our problem was powering all the emergency equipment. The outfitting company worked with Ford engineers and developed a system using a large, 12-volt marine-grade battery to run the emergency equipment. It is recharged from the main battery. The lights can stay on for over a week before the main battery depletes. The fear of the electronics in a police car rapidly draining the main battery is without merit.

The F150 Lightning is not pursuit-rated; however, our field test performance experience with this truck provides valuable positive consideration. Fort Bragg officers have been involved in two pursuits with the F150 Lightning. All the officers reported the Lightning is superior in every way to the Explorer in regard to acceleration, braking, high-speed handling, visibility and traction. One of the pursuits involved a sport motorcycle. The officer had no difficulty keeping up with the motorcycle during acceleration and only canceled the pursuit when the suspect went around a locked gate off-road and could not be followed. The other pursuit of a stolen truck lasted about 15 minutes and reached speeds of 80 mph. There was lots of hard driving with lights, siren and radio in use the entire time resulting in only 8% use of the battery.

In April 2023, Chief Moore of the LAPD presented a study of their pursuits from 2018 through April 2023, which numbered 4,203. Their analysis found the average distance of pursuits was 4.71 miles with 53% lasting less than two miles. The average speed was 46 mph and 72% lasted less than 5 minutes. While not every pursuit in every jurisdiction is the same, and highway patrol surely averages much higher, LAPD’s study is a good data source for urban pursuits. It also eliminates the negativity about EVs not having enough charge to be use in pursuits. I have seen a few officers in gas patrol cars run out of gas due to poor planning. It is important to understand your equipment, regardless of what it is.

“Infrastructure is our biggest issue right now.”


EV patrol vehicles are coming. The South Pasadena Police Department in California has leased 20 Teslas to replace its fleet and is outfitting them now. According to reports, the agency will be the first in the nation to replace its entire fleet with EVs. At CopsWest, the agency had its first fully outfitted Tesla 3 patrol car on display. The Irvine Police Department, also in California, announced it has begun the process of transitioning to 13 EV police cars — including an F150 Lightning — used at Great Park. The move to electric is coming and not just in California. The long-term savings in fuel and maintenance will entice many governments to implement a transition to EV. In the first five months, our four EV patrol trucks saved about $8,000, not including maintenance savings. It is projected when all eight patrol vehicles are EVs, we will save $40,000 annually in fuel costs (gasoline savings minus increased electricity costs). Planning now for the infrastructure, funding and training is important to stay ahead of the curve.

DOWNLOAD: Police1 Guide to Patrol Vehicle Electrification

About the author

After serving five years in the US Air Force, Neil J. Cervenka joined the USAF Reserves for another 4.5 years and achieved the rank of Technical Sergeant (E-6). He attended the Napa Valley Criminal Justice Training Center in 1999 and was hired by the Turlock Police Department, California in 2000. While there, he served as an FTO, Motor Officer, Gang Investigator, Internal Affairs and PIO. Neil achieved the rank of Lieutenant and was Acting Special Operations Division Commander, before being selected as the Fort Bragg (California) Chief of Police in July 2022. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from University of Phoenix and an MBA from California State University – Stanislaus. Neil is a graduate of the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute (Class 375) and POST Command College (Class 69).