POLICE officers trialling Tesla Model 3 and other electric-powered patrol cars in the United States have been quick to praise the on-duty competencies of new-energy vehicles, prompting Australian police forces to consider EVs for future roles on the beat.
Several jurisdictions across the US have commenced evaluation of the Model 3 in a range of policing duties – including high-speed pursuits – and say electric vehicles are not only completely capable of fulfilling policing roles, but also more energy efficient than initially thought.
New York City recently placed an order for 184 Ford Mustang Mach-Es for trial across its 77 precincts as the agency seeks to lower its fuel bills, reduce maintenance costs and decrease CO2 emissions.
The city’s police department has also placed an order for 250 Tesla Model 3s to join its 6200-strong vehicle fleet over the next five years.
Ford Motor Company’s US marketing manager, Greg Ebel, told Automotive News there is a shift in place across the United States as policing agencies and other government and private fleet owners seek to modernise their vehicles.
“We’re seeing the industry is starting to shift. There are so many benefits, the huge savings in maintenance costs, the lower cost of a kilowatt-hour compared to fuel. The interest is there,” Mr Ebel said.
Across the pond in the UK, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said the city would transition to a 100 per cent electric police fleet by 2030.
London’s 5000-strong police vehicle fleet travels an estimated 76 million kilometres across the city’s 32 boroughs annually. Mr Khan said estimates show that by moving just 800 of the Metropolitan Police’s vehicle fleet to electric power, it could cut up to nine per cent from its CO2 emissions tally while saving as much as £5m ($A9.2m) in fuel over a ten-year period.
The UK – which is already trialling both Hyundai and Tesla electric vehicles as part of its fleet mix – has joined countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand in adopting EVs in active duty.
Closer to home, in a post Ford and Holden era, Australian police forces say there is a requirement to source vehicles that meet the varied demands of the country’s often challenging geography – which may include a mixture of electric-powered vehicles in the not-too-distant future.
Western Australia police recently moved to Kia, Skoda and Volkswagen vehicles – all with internal combustion engines – citing the driving range offered by these fuel-efficient imported models as critical to patrolling the world’s largest police jurisdiction.
“When we consider vehicles for a policing perspective, we look at not only the performance – which is the braking, acceleration, and handling – but also the ergonomics for our officers, and these new (Kia, Skoda and Volkswagen) vehicles really come up to spec on that front,” Western Australia state traffic commander Mike Bell told GoAuto.
“(But) pure electric motor vehicles are the way of the future. We know we’ve got to head that way, so we’re starting to step into that space, and we’ll soon start looking widely into that field to see what the best vehicle for policing duties is.”
Across the border in South Australia, electric vehicles are already in use, though mostly for non-operational roles within the state’s capital.
The larger distances vehicles are required to travel in South Australia, coupled with a high percentage of unsealed roads in regional areas, is a hurdle current EV offerings are unable to cross, the state’s police instead utilising a greater number of hybrid vehicles for operational roles.
“South Australia Police currently have five electric vehicles for administrative (non-operational) use. The two Hyundai Konas and three Hyundai Ioniqs are located at Police Headquarters for all staff to use for non-operational duties such as attending meetings, site visits and business-related activities,” a South Australia Police spokesperson told GoAuto.
“At this point in time, SAPOL also has 66 hybrid vehicles, both marked and unmarked, in current operational use. There are also 40 hybrids for administrative use. SAPOL will continue to monitor its fleet stock for opportunities to embrace new technologies and improve our performance and environmental impact,” the spokesperson said.
The Queensland Police Service (QPS) recently added a hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo to its existing fleet of 13 pure-electric and 573 hybrid vehicles.
Its electrified patrol vehicle fleet includes Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Camry models in metropolitan areas, with petrol- and diesel-powered models used in rural settings and for highway patrol duties.
QPS’ Hyundai Nexo is assigned to the North Brisbane Domestic and Family Violence Vulnerable Persons Unit as a trial model that deputy commissioner Doug Smith says aims to ensure a future-ready vehicle mix.
“This vehicle will be trialled for a period before evaluation, providing a valuable resource to this important unit,” Deputy Commissioner Smith said.
“Joining our diverse fleet of existing modes of transport, we look forward to further opportunities to ensure our service is future-fit.”
Further south, Victoria Police says it is continuing to assess the role EVs will play in the future of policing in the state. The force has had a Tesla Model X on fleet since 2019 and was the first state in Australia to trial a battery-electric vehicle as part of its fleet.
Nowadays, the Model X is used by a unit of the State Highway Patrol, primarily as an evaluation and community engagement vehicle.
“Victoria Police continues to work with vehicle manufacturers to evaluate electric vehicles as they are introduced to the Australian market, including their suitability to be custom fit with police equipment that meets operation requirements,” a Victoria Police spokesperson told GoAuto.
“In 2019, Victoria Police introduced an all-electric Tesla Model X to the fleet. It is still in service with Victoria Police and currently housed at the State Highway Patrol South/East Unit. The Model X is primarily used in supervisory capacity, as well as for community engagement exercises.
“The Tesla Model X has been invaluable for Victoria Police in testing the feasibility and identifying the infrastructure required to underpin the wider introduction of electric vehicles in the fleet.”
New South Wales Police Force echoed the sentiment of its southern neighbour, simply saying it was currently “in conversation with relevant stakeholders and suppliers about the use of alternate vehicles”.
GoAuto understands Tasmania Police also has as many as 60 hybrid- and plug-in hybrid vehicles on its police fleet but has yet to adopt battery electric models. It is understood that the lack of charging infrastructure across the island state is behind the force’s move not to evaluate battery electric vehicles at this time.
ACT Policing is also understood to be evaluating hybrid and battery electric vehicles within the Canberran perimeter but said recently it would require certain operational safeguards to be in place before it would consider transitioning its fleet territory-wide.
Speaking to The Canberra Times late last year, ACT Policing’s chief police officer Neil Gaughan said the force remains cautiously optimistic about the implementation of electric vehicles but believes a range of “at least 400km” is necessary for any battery electric vehicle to be considered.
The Canberra Times reported that the ACT government is firmly committed to electrifying all its fleet vehicles to provide a lead for the public to follow, with the Greens setting a policy target of 90 per cent of new vehicle sales in the ACT to be zero-emission by 2030.
However, as ACT Policing is contracted to the territory by the Australian Federal Police, it is not required to follow the territory’s fleet vehicle directives.
Estimates place the United States’ law enforcement fleet at between 250,000 and 300,000 units. Vehicles are replaced at a rate of approximately 60,000 units per annum with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis listed as primary suppliers.
Automotive News estimates that upfitting a vehicle for police duties costs between $US12,000 and $US20,000 per vehicle ($A16,700 and $A27,800), meaning any savings amortised over a vehicle’s life represent significant savings to the taxpayer.
Speaking to Automotive News last week, patrolman Matthew Hayes of the Nitro Police Department in West Virginia said that a recent 20-minute-long pursuit saw the trial Model 3 exceed speeds of over 160km/h, and that upon returning to regular patrol the vehicle still had considerable charge remaining.
The extended high-speed pursuit, in which Nitro officers were assisting a neighbouring police department, finished more than 40km from the town’s city limits. Initially, Office Hayes said he was concerned about the driving range of Model 3, but found the vehicle performed better than expected.
“It was good for testing purposes. There wasn’t anything dramatically different about it,” Officer Hayes told Automotive News.
“It operated like you’d expect (of a police interceptor) and stayed with the other vehicles in the pursuit. I used more range than I typically would have in that amount of time, of course, but it wasn’t at the point where at the end of the procedure I was worried about needing to charge.
“I got back to the city, and I had plenty of range to finish my shift,” he added.
Nearly 500km away in Bargersville, Indiana, a trial of five Tesla Model 3s is underway with a further two vehicles on order.
The 46-square-kilometre jurisdiction sees patrol vehicles typically travel distances of between 95- and 240-km per 12-hour shift, leaving ample charge for pursuit requirements – or for the incoming shift.
Officer Jeremy Roll of the Bargersville Police Department told Automotive News that his colleagues had so far been impressed with the Model 3’s abilities.
“The last pursuit I was (involved) in, the Tesla Model 3 handled very well. We were chasing down a Ford F-250, the pursuit lasted about 20 minutes, and we did just fine. We didn’t have any issues with the car,” Officer Roll said, before adding that the same may not apply for police forces elsewhere.
“EVs work for our department, but they may not be good for others. The state police have a large roaming range, and the charging infrastructure is not quite there. You can go out three counties and you won’t run into a charging station, but you will pass about 40 gas stations,” he proffered.
But while the prognosis seems favourable for smaller communities and densely populated cities, law enforcement officials of larger geographical areas say range anxiety remains an issue.
Michigan State Police Lieutenant Michael McCarty told Automotive News that vehicle manufacturers need to expand the range offering of their EVs if state highway patrol agencies and other wide-field services are to seriously consider making the switch.
“The biggest issues with police cars and electric vehicles right now is range anxiety,” Lieutenant McCarthy said.
“A municipality that has a charging station three miles away can go charge for a few minutes before the officer goes on their next call. But our department does highway patrol functions, and we have cars that put on 300-plus miles (480km) a day.
“We cover several counties in a shift. If there’s not charging stations that will allow us to get back to our starting point, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he added.
Late last year, Lieutenant McCarthy was one of five officers who test drove new police vehicles produced by Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford as part of Michigan State Police’s 2022 Model Year Police Vehicle Evaluation program.
He said that for a vehicle to be considered suitable for application within his jurisdiction, it would require a single charge driving range of at least 400 miles (640km).
“That’s been part of our conversation about electric vehicles,” Lieutenant McCarthy said of discussions between Michigan State Police and vehicle manufacturers.
“Four hundred to 450 miles on a charge would be outstanding. Think about the number of troopers we have that work from home. If they had a charging station at their residence, they could plug in when they got home, and the car would be ready for their shift the next day.
“With police work, there is nothing timed. You never know what you will be doing a minute from now. Right now, the infrastructure doesn’t support the same ability as gasoline-powered cars, where, when you are low on fuel, you can go and fuel up and continue your mission,” he noted.
A petrol-powered vehicle can be refuelled in less than five minutes and offer more than 600km range. By comparison, an electric vehicle like the Tesla Model 3 can add just 320km range in 15 minutes when connected to the fastest charger available, while the Ford Mustang Mach-E can get just 95km with 10 minutes’ charge time.
FoMoCo’s marketing manager told Automotive News the company’s police advisory board has helped it to define what it is pursuit-rated electric police vehicles need to be viable, and says it isn’t just range, but charging times that are of most concern.
“We’re going to do our homework. We’re going to work with our customers. We take their feedback into consideration as we move forward with product development,” Mr Ebel said.
The United States also has electric vehicles in trial or in use in locations including Boulder, Colorado; Gate Mills, Ohio; Fremont, California; Eden Prairie, Minnesota; Leon County, Florida.
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