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Police Departments Buying Teslas

Climate change and pandemic budget-cuts have police departments considering ways to both save money and prepare for a green energy future. Replacing aging gasoline-fueled patrol cars with electric vehicles accomplishes both goals because newer vehicles are lower in maintenance, and electric cars tend to be more fuel efficient.

Todd Bertram, police chief of Bargersville, Indiana, saw the savings opportunity as a way to hire more officers, which costs about $100,000 per year to employ. “Salaries and wages and fuel and maintenance are the two biggest things we spend our money on,” said Bertram.

A new Tesla Model 3 costs around $38,000 directly from the manufacturer, and Bargersville contracted with its usual auto outfitter to make $11,000 worth of alterations to be fit for use as a patrol vehicle. The department formerly used Dodge Chargers and Durangos for the 14 cars in its fleet, and Bertram remarked it “wasn’t any more expensive to do the Tesla than the Charger.”

The department has purchased three Teslas, and it plans to have two more in service by the beginning of 2021. Other police departments also seem to be making the upgrades slowly, choosing to phase-in electric vehicles once their older vehicles are ready to be phased-out.

Bertram says that, in addition to the low cost, the new cars are fast. A Model 3 is rated to do zero to 60 miles per hour in just three seconds. “We do a lot of zipping through the neighborhood trying to get to the back of the neighborhood for calls,” he told The New Republic. The 15-inch, center-console GPS unit “is very handy” as well.

But it’s not all upsides, as Bertram reported that the vehicle’s near silence can be a problem for pedestrians, cyclists, and animals that can’t hear the vehicle “zipping” around residential streets.

Also troubling is the tactic the Tesla corporation has been using to prevent some departments from disclosing their relationship with the company. Police Chief Foti Koskinas of Westport, Connecticut, was only able to discuss in generalities the department’s desire to test the viability of strictly electric vehicles compared to hybrids currently being produced for the patrol car market. This is because the town of Westport signed a nondisclosure agreement which prevents him from sharing any details with “third parties.”

Bertram was able to be more effusive since he was advised signing an NDA would violate state disclosure laws. Though he says most of his interaction with Tesla is in providing feedback on minor details that would make them more useful to officers, such as allowing the headlights to remain on indefinitely after the vehicle has been switched off.

The Biden administration is likely to learn from the trials of local departments like Bargersville when considering plans to “green” federal agency fleets. It also is likely that Democratic Party ties to Silicon Valley will lead to more coordinated transitions to green tech at the federal level.

While more efficient patrol cars for police make sense – since we are likely to have some form of policing for the near future – other transitions may be more difficult to justify. A solar-powered ICE detention facility or carbon-neutral factories producing weapons for sale to Saudi Arabia seem like mere “green” continuations of current, troubling policy. As citizens, we should raise our voices and use this time of transition to change the directions in which we are headed, not just the vehicles we are using to get there. 


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