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Fremont, Calif., PD Plans to Adopt More Electric Patrol Cars

After successfully testing a Tesla Model S 85 as a patrol vehicle in 2018, the Fremont Police Department is planning to expand its electric fleet as gas-powered vehicles reach the end of their life cycles.

Closeup of an illuminated light bar on top of a law enforcement vehicle.
(TNS) — The Fremont Police Department is planning to expand its fleet of all-electric-powered patrol vehicles after its Tesla Model S 85 scored high marks in what was among the first pilot programs of its kind in the country. The program measured whether the car was durable enough for police usage, met performance needs and was cost-effective.

Potential savings in fuel and maintenance costs, plus the benefit of zero greenhouse gas emissions, have piqued the interest of other law-enforcement agencies as well, said Fremont Police Capt. Sean Washington.

"It met our needs as a police department here, and we feel like it would meet the needs of others throughout the nation," said Washington, who leads the program for the department. "We're happy that the report supported our initial suspicions that this would be a good option."

Fremont police purchased the 2014 Tesla in January 2018 and began adding modifications needed to operate as a patrol vehicle, like an overhead light bar, a vehicle camera and prisoner partition. The car embarked on its first patrol in March 2019, making it perhaps the first zero-emissions patrol vehicle to be deployed in the United States.

In the near future, many patrol cars and other city vehicles will be replaced with electric models once the older cars reach the end of their life cycles.

Washington said the force has made improvements to the department's use of the vehicle following a high-profile mishap last year, when their Tesla nearly ran out of juice during a high-speed pursuit. Washington said it was just a matter of the officer not powering up enough before duty — the same issue that arises when a gas-powered car is low on fuel.

Still, it's now a department policy to have the car charged no less than 80% before beginning a shift.

But most importantly, Washington said, the vehicle met the demands for police work and officers felt safe driving it.

While the initial price of any electric-powered vehicle may be steep for cities already strapped for cash by the economic effects of the pandemic, Fremont's report demonstrates how savings mount over time. Fremont paid about $61,500 for its Tesla, in comparison to $40,500 for its other, gas-fueled Ford vehicles.

Fremont police report that they saved $2,100 annually over the Fords when factoring in costs of energy versus fuel, as well as maintenance and repair costs. In its lifetime, the vehicle is expected to save $30,000 in fuel costs, compared to a traditional gas-powered vehicle.

These factors, as well as the electric vehicle's longer expected life span, "appears to balance or slightly reduce the overall operating cost," the report states.

There was no hometown discount for the Fremont-manufactured Tesla, Washington said.

The department's electric fleet program is part of the city's multi-pronged sustainability plans, which include projects involving energy, transportation, waste, water, and green building and business.

Fremont officials have set a goal of making the city carbon-neutral by 2045.

Rachel DiFranco, the city's sustainability manager, said it's not only patrol cars that could be swapped out for plug-in counterparts, and some city vehicles have already done so. In the near future, it could be pickup trucks for parks and street maintenance. Further down the road, the city could see electric street sweepers or even fire trucks.

"The goal is to electrify as many as possible," DiFranco said.

A recent study by the city suggests that Fremont could replace 65 of its current fleet vehicles with electric alternatives within the next three years alone, based on technology that's on the market now. By 2028, that number could rise to 159 vehicles, amounting to a 53% reduction of the fleet's carbon emissions. And that's at a minimum.

"There's so much innovation in this space," DiFranco said. "It's really hard to look out beyond a three-year horizon and be able to read the tea leaves."

All told, the study reported, Fremont's electric vehicle replacements could result in about $3 million in savings to the city over the next two decades with about $2.5 million directly attributed to police vehicle replacement.

So far, Fremont police have acquired two out of the three additional electric or hybrid patrol vehicles the city has budgeted for the past two fiscal years: The 2020 Tesla Model Y, which was bought for $57,000, and the 2021 Ford Utility Hybrid PPV, purchased for $48,000. The city is weighing a number of car manufacturers before moving forward.

The most immediate hurdle, she said, is coming up with the infrastructure costs for charging stations. To electrify all of the vehicles identified in the study, 86 charging ports will need to be added, including at least 52 at the city's police complex. DiFranco said research like Fremont's report will help the city and others justify front-loading the costs in exchange for savings and environmental benefits in the decades to come.

There's potential for hefty stimulus funds to come from the next presidential administration for environmental projects, but DiFranco said it's unclear when that will happen or what that will look like.

"That's where we're at now — do we put the cart before the horse?" DiFranco said. "Those are the things that we're still trying to get a better understanding of with this study."

©2020 the San Francisco Chronicle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.