Calif. PD testing all-electric Tesla cruiser

The department bought a used 2014 Tesla and has been working to get it stocked with necessary equipment

Joseph Geha
The Mercury News

FREMONT, Calif. — Here in the home of Teslas, the police department soon will be hitting the streets with a customized black-and-white version of the all-electric Model S.

“If Teslas are going to become police vehicles, it would be pretty cool if Fremont could have one of the first ones,” police spokeswoman Geneva Bosques said in an interview Tuesday. The Tesla manufacturing plant, after all, is Fremont’s biggest employer with roughly 10,000 employees.

But that isn’t the main reason police have chosen the trendy earth-friendly vehicle, she and other police officials insist.

“If we happen to be the first, OK, that’s great, but really, that’s not what this is about,” police Capt. Sean Washington said.

“This is about really developing a pilot program to see if this is a feasible alternative to gas-powered vehicles in a police environment,” he said. “We’ll know within six months to a year, either yes or no.”

The department bought a used 2014 Tesla Model S 85 early last year and has since been working to get it stocked with overhead lights, a partition cage and other necessary equipment, Washington said.

“This is a huge step going to a patrol vehicle, because of the needs of a patrol officer,” he said. “The car needs to operate with all the electronics going, it has to have a certain amount of performance, a certain amount of range.”

According to the Tesla company website, a 2014 Model S 85 can go about 265 miles on a full charge. Washington said range was one of the key considerations because Fremont patrol officers drive about 70 to 100 miles per shift.

Washington said the department will be gathering feedback from officers who use the car — which is replacing an older patrol vehicle — and monitoring the costs and any challenges that might arise.

There were a few speed bumps along the way.

“It has been a long, long process, because there are challenges inherent in putting the equipment in, and the cage, and you have to be very careful where you cut on the car,” Washington said.

“This is all new. It’s not like you just take a divider out of a Ford and slap it into a Tesla. It doesn’t work,” he said. “Everything had to be configured specific to this vehicle.”

Washington said the car cost the department almost $60,000 — about $20,000 more than the average new Ford Explorer that makes up most of the patrol fleet.

He noted the department spends about $30,000 on gas over the lifetime of a patrol vehicle, which typically lasts about five years before wear and tear dictates replacement.

If the Tesla lasts that long, it could end up costing about the same as the other vehicles when gas savings are accounted for, he said. And no oil changes will be necessary, he added.

“We don’t have any reason to believe that it won’t last the five years that our typical patrol cars do,” Washington said, although he acknowledged “that’s the unknown.”

Washington said the car could be ready for use in about a month and officers will test it out for a couple of weeks before patrolling the streets.

Although it wasn’t the department’s goal, Washington said, Fremont may become the first U.S. police department to use a Tesla as a patrol vehicle. Just a few other police agencies around the globe, like one in Luxembourg and another in Switzerland, have incorporated Tesla models into their patrol fleets.

The Los Angeles Police Department purchased a Model S in 2016 and partially outfitted it, but never designated it for patrol duty. A department spokeswoman said Tuesday it doesn’t even own the vehicle anymore.

The Denver Police Department got a Model S in 2017, but uses it only for show.

“We have one but it’s just for public relations and for events for the kids to see,” Jay Casillas, a public information officer with Denver police, said Tuesday. “It’s a conversation starter,” he said.

Washington said once Fremont is ready to deploy the car, it’ll likely invite residents to come check it out and ask questions during a public event.


©2019 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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