EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Police in Eden Prairie are going electric. As in electric vehicles. They're rolling out a fully-outfitted Tesla that they believe is the first daily-use, all-electric police patrol car in the state.
They say it'll save tons of carbon emissions, and maybe even a little money.
When it comes to guzzling gas, police vehicles are among the thirstiest on the road. Built with powerful engines, squads are used on a daily basis and they're running almost constantly to keep radios, lights, cameras, computers and climate control systems functioning.
So when Eden Prairie officials decided to address climate change, public works director Robert Ellis knew right where to look.
“This is the one that is almost a no-brainer,” he said.
The city has more than two dozen patrol cars, many of them Dodge Chargers.
“They spend hours and hours idling on site. Also with the miles — they put on 25-to-30,000 miles a year, you know — burning through a lot of fuel there too. So we think it makes perfect sense of all the vehicles in our fleet” Ellis added.
But electric vehicles can pose their own challenges. The very features that made them viable, their relatively small size and rechargeable batteries, were deal breakers for cops.
“We weren't super sold on the idea,” said Eden Prairie police chief Matt Sackett.
He says cars like the Tesla S posed problems for officers who need to jump in and out of their vehicles, burdened with radios, handcuffs, weapons and all kinds of other equipment strapped to them.
And size, to some degree, translates to safety — whether it is out on the road in all weather or even just a few more inches between an officer and a suspect in the back seat.
But the new Tesla Y model may be a game-changer. It's a better fit for police officers and has a little more range.
And, the chief says, it has some giddy-up.
“I can tell you, from driving myself even, it has a very good performance feel to it,” said Sackett. “And I think it will definitely serve as well as a functional police car for getting around in a hurry when we need to, and being able to blend in and out of traffic.”
All well and good, but this isn't actually a police car — it's a taxpayer car. At least that's who pays for it, and economics is a key factor in making decisions like what police officers should drive.
The first Tesla cost Eden Prairie $53,000, about twice as much as a gasoline vehicle.
Ellis, the public works director, says it's hard to put a price on the 70 metric tons of greenhouse gas the city expects to avoid generating. But he says, even beyond that, the numbers actually pencil out, when the city switches from gas to electricity over a three or four-year useful lifespan of a patrol car.
“You compare, you know, initial purchase price, all the savings on operations and maintenance it looks to be about $2,700 cost savings over that 100,000 miles,” he said. “Or what I'll just call a wash.”
Ellis says he also suspects that, with a much simpler drive train and easier maintenance, the car may ultimately last longer than a gas-powered patrol vehicle and add to the financial upside.
But for now, they're shooting for a 100,000-mile test and joining a few other cities, including Fremont, Calif., adding a dash of green to their fleet of black and whites.