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Electric vehicles prove they can handle police work

The time has come for EVs to take on patrol car duties

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California’s Fremont PD has a Tesla Model Y and an S 85 in its 40-plus car electric/hybrid fleet.

Photo/Ron LaPedis

This article originally appeared in the Police1 Digital Edition, “Police1 guide to patrol vehicle electrification.” Download your copy here.

Can electric vehicles handle police department needs? According to four departments that are using them in their fleets, the answer is yes. All four departments report that electric vehicles (EVs) have the range, speed and ruggedness to serve as regular patrol cars. And although EVs can cost more to buy than their internal combustion equivalents, EVs cost less to operate and maintain over the long term.

What electric vehicles have to offer

Indiana’s Bargersville Police Department (BPD) has five Tesla Model 3s and five Tesla Model Ys in its 17-vehicle fleet. “We are a town of about 10,000 people and we have 16 officers,” BPD Chief Todd Bertram told Police1. “We started the electric vehicle program in 2019 with a Tesla Model 3 because of its performance and the money savings. We have saved many thousands of dollars thus far.”

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) in Colorado bought a single Model Y in 2021. “I was looking for our agency to be on the cutting edge and help lead the way in the proliferation of EVs in our sector,” BCSO Detective Sergeant Clay Leak reported. “Additionally, I recognized the reduced environmental impact and the reduced operating costs of the Tesla compared to our existing vehicles and saw that those benefits greatly outweighed the increased initial purchase cost compared to the Ford PIU.”

The Gates Mills Police (GPD) serves an upscale suburb in Cleveland. I spoke with GPD Chief Gregg Minichello, who told me, “Our single Tesla Model S was gifted to us by a generous resident police supporter. This is a high-end car that would not likely be looked at for police work because of the cost. But we see many Teslas being driven in our community and knew it would be well received.” The GPD’s Tesla Model S has been fully retrofitted by Hall Public Safety (HPS) to serve as a functional police car that is primarily used by supervisors.

In an effort to improve efficiency, California’s Fremont Police (FPD) has transitioned part of its fleet from gas-powered vehicles to hybrid vehicles. The FPD has a Tesla Model Y and an S 85 in its 40-plus car electric/hybrid fleet, which otherwise consists of Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion gas/electric hybrids

Superior performance all around

There is no doubt that moving in part or in whole to an electric police fleet is better for the environment than using gas-powered vehicles. However, even without this benefit, the four departments cited in this article report that their EVs are superior to gas-powered vehicles when it comes to practical performance on the road – without running out of battery power before their shifts are done.

“The No. 1 pro of electric cars is their money savings for the department,” Chief Bertram noted. “But they actually perform better than our old gas cars. If there is a con, it’s that you have to charge them. Without access to a DC fast charger, this can take a little time, but still, it works very well.”

“The benefits are little-to-no emissions, very quiet, rapid acceleration, no idling time, little maintenance, less vehicle down time, fuel savings, and the Tesla fits in well with our community,” Chief Minichello said. “The cons are that the Tesla is smaller than an SUV and is costlier to initially purchase. However, that price difference compared to a gasoline vehicle can be recouped over 4-5 years thanks to fuel savings and lower maintenance costs.”

BSCO’s Model Y “has zero downtime for maintenance when compared to our Ford PIUs that have to get oil changes every 4,000 miles plus have other work done like brakes being replaced an average of once a year, transmission work, and so forth,” said Detective Sergeant Clay Leak. “Operating costs are also proving to be better than projected: I ran stats at 10,657 miles on the Tesla and was able to determine that our average driving efficiency was 252 watt hours per mile and driving all those miles only cost us $247 in electricity, averaging to $0.023 per mile driven. Comparatively, our Ford PIUs would’ve used $1,852 worth of gasoline to drive the same miles, equating to $0.173 per mile driven, not counting additional maintenance, such as oil changes.”

The FPD came to similar positive conclusions, based on a comparison between a Tesla Model S 85 and a Ford PIU. The City of Fremont Police Department Electric Patrol Vehicle Pilot Program highlighted that the Tesla Model S 85 “met or exceeded expectations, often demonstrating superior performance when compared to standard gas Ford police pursuit vehicles (PPVs), as well as being cost-effective.”

Moving ahead with EVs

Thanks to these positive results, these departments plan to buy more electric vehicles.

“These cars perform better, cost less, and are much more comfortable than our gas cars,” Chief Bertram said. “Once there is an electric truck that is viable, we will switch to them too.”

“Our new incoming sheriff is very supportive of EVs and already has plans on purchasing three Ford Mach-E EVs for admin use, and I’ve heard there’s a possibility of us getting a Ford F-150 Lightning as well,” said Detective Sergeant Leak. “We’re also expanding our EV charging network at our facilities to prepare for a bigger EV fleet. I have pitched a proposal for solar panel-covered carports for our parking lot(s) as well to help offset the operating costs even further, and to protect our vehicles from the elements in general as they sit parked.”

As for lessons learned? The only sticking point, as reported by the BCSO, is that “the OEM driver’s seat is pretty snug in the Model Y for anyone wearing police duty gear, especially if they’re anything larger than medium-to-average build,” Detective Sergeant Clay Leak reported. “Our electronics outfitter also had some challenges since it was the first Tesla they had ever worked on and there’s no traditional OBD-II port to tie into for the emergency lights/siren to get certain action cues from the car. They were able to find acceptable workarounds for most functions though, and other agencies have had good success in this regard.”

The bottom line: The time has come for EVs to take on patrol car duties, just as mobile computers and two-way radios did in years’ past.

NEXT: Meet this California PD’s tricked out Tesla

James Careless is an award-winning freelance writer who covers the public safety sector. His articles have been published in fire, EMS and law enforcement publications across North America.