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Calif. PD buys 2nd Tesla patrol car after pilot program

In a report released last week, Fremont Police called the electric vehicles a ‘success’ and a ‘feasible option’ for the city

fremont police tesla.jpg

This photo shows the Fremont Police Department’s first Tesla before it was finished with the agency’s logos.

Fremont Police Department

By Joseph Geha
Mercury News

FREMONT, Calif. — More than a year after making headlines for becoming the first police agency in the nation to put a Tesla on patrol, the Fremont Police Department has doubled down on its hometown automaker and bought a second one of the company’s fast, sleek, and quiet electric cars.

The department bought a 2020 Tesla Model Y in July, but made no public announcement at the time, though a police official said the city council had been privately briefed on the purchase in advance.

The purchase came four months before the department publicly issued the results of its pilot program study to determine if the 2014 Tesla Model S the department started using last year was a worthy investment.

In the study results released Thursday, the department said its one-year pilot program from March 2019 to March 2020 showed that electric vehicles can put up with the rigors of police work, and that “expansion of electric patrol vehicles is a feasible option.”

Switching to electric vehicles also drastically reduces the amount of greenhouse gas the city is responsible for emitting, though the report noted some distinct challenges departments could face if making the conversion.

Over a five-year period, the used 2014 Tesla Model S will cost Fremont about $132,758 to own and operate, about $17,000 more expensive than a typical Ford Utility Interceptor would, police calculated in their report.

The Model S purchase price of about $61,000 was significantly higher than a roughly $40,000 police-ready Ford, and the Tesla required custom modifications that racked up to nearly $7,000 over what it would cost to outfit a Ford for police use, police said.

“There was no playbook,” for how to get a Tesla ready for police use, Capt. Sean Washington said.

The brand new 2020 Model Y was purchased for about $57,000, police said, and modifications are still being made.

The used Tesla also had to be tested before use on the street, and Washington said in an interview the Model S went through some extra tires while being put through its paces at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office test course, which added to its startup costs, though some of those could be eliminated in the future.

However, the Tesla outperformed the Ford in some annual metrics during the pilot program, which helped even out the costs.

Police said the cost to charge the Tesla was about a fifth of the cost of fueling a patrol vehicle annually, and it was off the road 27 fewer days than the Fords were for maintenance.

Washington believes both the used and new Teslas will last longer than the typical five years police cars do before being replaced, and could have a higher resale value down the road, which could also drive costs of ownership down further.

“This is the exact purpose of the pilot program,” Washington said.

“Even after 12 months there are still unknowns out there, but the evidence is suggesting that we could see savings,” he said.

Washington said the Model S is “great,” but has some challenges, including that taller officers don’t fit in it very easily, and its low ground clearance means it can’t handle all terrains as well, and it had limited cargo space.

The Model Y, a roomier compact SUV different from the lower profile of the Model S, “fits our needs a little bit better,” Washington said.

Officers who drive the Model S said there were a few other benefits over a Ford, such as an “enhanced feeling of safety and control when responding to emergency calls” because of the car’s performance, and “a reduction in anxiety and stress when responding to emergency calls” because it is quieter than a gas engine.

But one pitfall of the electric vehicle is the battery range. Currently, the Tesla cannot be used in back-to-back police shifts — as gas-powered cars are — because it can take anywhere from two to four hours to get it sufficiently charged back up for use.

The department has standard Tesla chargers, but said a Tesla “Supercharger would be preferable” to cut down on charging time.

The department has placed an emphasis on ensuring the car has about 80 percent battery or more before being taken out on a shift, after the Tesla infamously ran low on juice during a felony highway pursuit in September 2019.

This news organization broke the story that the officer driving the Tesla, who was nearing the end of his shift, radioed in to dispatch that he might not be able to continue the chase he was leading at that time, and asked for other officers to take his place.

Despite that incident, Washington said the car has generally been a success, and is “overwhelmingly” supported by the community and department.

He still fields calls and inquiries from police officials around the country who are interested in using electric vehicles for patrol.

The police chief in the small town of Bargersville, Indiana, now drives a Tesla patrol car, according to The Indianapolis Star, and the Westport, Connecticut department bought one about a year ago, according to the Westchester & Fairfield County Business Journals.

Fremont police, the enforcement agency for Alameda County pandemic safety orders, did not force Tesla to shut down its Fremont factory operations in May, when CEO Elon Musk brazenly reopened the factory against county safety rules, and dared police to arrest him on Twitter.

Multiple Fremont City Councilmembers also own Teslas, and some were hesitant to condemn Tesla for risking worker safety during the pandemic at the time.

Though it could appear that Fremont police are playing favorites by buying cars from Tesla, Washington said the department based their purchases strictly off of performance and the needs of police work.

“It’s really our commitment to try and evaluate how we can save on fuel and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” he said, noting the department also purchased a 2021 Ford Utility Hybrid patrol vehicle for $48,223, and is watching other manufacturers who are expanding their electric vehicle fleets.

“We’re identifying what the future is going to look like as a society and a police department,” Washington said, “and we’re trying to already figure out and problem solve in preparation for the future.”

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