Montana's capital city is investing more in hybrid police cars

"When you really look at the fuel mileage it just doesn't make much sense to buy anything else," said Sgt. Jayson Zander

By Independent Record, Helena, Mont.

HELENA, Mont. — The Helena Police Department is investing in more hybrid patrol vehicles after receiving a significant return on investment from the first round purchased in late 2020.

According to HPD Lt. Jayson Zander, the Ford hybrid police interceptor models are much more efficient in terms of fuel cost and mileage. The HPD purchased three of the vehicles during its trial run in 2020 and will soon add four more.

Zander said the HPD expects the new vehicles to arrive in the next 30 days or so, but it could be slightly longer before they are on the streets as they need to be outfitted by the city shops first.

"I'm a car guy. I think that is why they have me order them," Zander said. "The way the hybrids work, it takes some getting used to, but when you really look at the fuel mileage it just doesn't make much sense to buy anything else."

Each hybrid vehicle costs about $3,000 more than a traditional vehicle. Because of the savings on fuel, the hybrid vehicles make up for the added cost in about a year.

Zander said the department's existing hybrid vehicles get an average of 15.3 miles per gallon, and the non-hybrid SUVs get an average of 9.1. The HPD's patrol vehicles typically travel around 20,000 to 25,000 miles each year, meaning each hybrid vehicle saves $3,000 to $3,800 in fuel costs annually (assuming a price of about $3.50 per gallon).

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"With about 6 mpg efficiency over 15 to 20 cars, that is a significant amount of savings for fuel," Zander said.

The Ford police interceptor badge dates back to the early 1990s, when it was found on many Crown Victoria cars. Now the "purpose built" police vehicle of choice from Ford is based on the Explorer and built on a pickup truck frame.

Zander said the HPD has had good luck with the SUV models. The department has tried to use Dodge Charger models, which are often used by the Montana Highway Patrol, but found them to be less efficient compared to the SUVs for the city-based driving common for patrol officers. Zander said the Ford SUVs are the best patrol vehicles the HPD has ever had, and the hybrids are simply more efficient.

"They really are designed for driving in town, and all of our police work is in town," Zander said. "They seem to do everything we need them to do."

It will take some time before the majority of the HPD fleet is made up of hybrid vehicles, and it will never be entirely hybrids. The HPD does keep a pickup truck that is used for various purposes such as moving animal carcasses or hauling larger pieces of evidence such as a bicycle, Zander said. The HPD only replaces vehicles as it retires older vehicles after five to six years of use. Zander said the life of a police car can be very rough, and rotating vehicles into retirement ensures they don't all break down at the same time.

"Basically what we found out about these vehicles is that they operate the same but the fuel economy is way better," Zander said. "With these types of things being paid out of the general fund, they are more fiscally responsible. Typically what police do with vehicles doesn't get good gas mileage."

(c)2022 the Independent Record (Helena, Mont.)

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