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  • Writer's pictureTricia Babischkin

Going Green Costs Green

In this past board meeting, Phil responded to my questions and posts on the status of the police cars that he would like to go green by looking into Telsas for the police department. He felt that this could be good move for the department because it would be greener than our current Chargers and it makes a statement about our Village. On both these points, he is correct.

But I have to ask -- do Teslas make sense for our small department and at what cost?

Very few departments are using Teslas today. A quick internet study shows that there's a department in Fremont, CA; a few in Europe; a small, rural town in Indiana and likely a few more are experimenting with it. From what I can tell, none have gone completely to Teslas and all have different solutions to solving the problem that Tesla doesn't have a stock police package. So, frankly, this idea is fairly untested.

First problem is the lack of a police package. Remember that scene in The Blues Brothers where Elwood is explaining to Jake why he bought a cop car? Elwood tells Jake -  “It’s got a cop motor, cop tires, cop shocks…” The vehicles used by police departments have special “police packages” - radios, computers, modifications to allow them to safely transport suspects, mounting points to safely transport and store police equipment, and yes, even modifications to the powertrain, suspension, and the wheels so that compared to your average passenger car a police car is well suited to the needs of Law Enforcement.  Ford, Chevy, and Dodge all offer the police package right from the factory, they’ve designed their police vehicles to be exactly that - police vehicles.   However, there’s no “police package” for a Tesla. To make a Tesla a police car, those modifications must be made as custom packages, and with so few Departments using Teslas - there’s not a lot of options to get that work done.

What all those police packages have in common is that they require electricity. In fact, one of the reasons that makes the idea of Teslas intriguing is that gas police cars need to idle to run the electronics. Using a Tesla would not need to idle to do this; but it would be a drain on the battery -- the same battery needed to run the motor. So that would affect the range.

In speaking to a friend with a Model 3, I learned a few key things about a Tesla that might make them less effective as police cars (at least in the current configuration):

  1. Range is a concern. If you figure that the added electronics could reduce the range down between 25-50% and you aren't recharging on the road, the true range of a Tesla could be about 150 miles a day. Keep in mind, the police would have to go back to the charger before the full end of that range -- which could cause a unique experience of range anxiety -- as one cop found out in Fremont.

  2. Maintenance is a concern. Today, when a Dodge needs repair we have options -- we have the dealer, we have mechanics, we have our officers. But a Tesla that needs repair is going to Schaumburg or Highland Park. I'm also very unclear what a police package would do to the warranty of a Tesla.

  3. Winters and electric cars. The cold air of winter seriously takes it's toll on the Tesla. Years ago, I drove a hybrid SUV and saw it and I had a gas engine recharging my battery. So, expect the range situation to get worse in winter.

  4. Battery wear down is real. It appears that Teslas can lose battery capacity as they age. Tesla will allow 30% decline before they replace the batteries -- but that decline over time will reduce range. My friend sent me this data from their Model 3 -- in less than 2 years, it's lost 12% in range. And he explain that they do all the best practices and I'm fairly confident that he's not running police radios, computers, and driving 100's of miles through our village a day.

And none of those things address the need for a charger. Now, one thing I did learn is that Village Hall and Public Works do not pay for electricity -- frankly, this makes the Tesla idea super attractive. But there is a cap to the free and above that we would pay for electricity; and I have no idea how close to that cap we are running today or if charging Teslas would push us over. But either way, we'd need to be able to charge the Tesla(s). Given the range concerns, we'd likely need multiple so that we'd have a Tesla charging for every Tesla on the road. Math would say, "great, we have 4 cars in the fleet today, we patrol two at a time = 4 Teslas." Except, that the reason we have 4 cars is so one can be down and needing repair and one can be back-up while two are patrolling. So, now we need to grow the police fleet from 4 to likely 6.

The price is probably going to be similar or a bit higher than the Chevy Tahoe, which would also have 4 wheel drive for those snowy winter days when people tend to have issues getting up the hill on Haligus. So, now we'd have to consider a summer and winter fleet of police cars? Does this really make sense.

Finally, Phil is right; a fleet of Tesla police cars would say something about our village -- likely that we have more dollars than sense. Years ago, I remember my dad having the (less expensive) white wall tires turned around because it was perception that white wall tires were more expensive than black walls. So, yes, if we put a perceived expensive car on the road of our village kitted out for our police, it makes a very clear statement about our village and the priorities of her leadership. Is that statement actually positive?

I think that going green is a noble goal; but fiscally responsible people would ask: is this the right time; do we have other higher priorities? Why not wait and let other towns with more resources perfect the concept and use case before bringing it to Lakewood?

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