Are electric cars ideal for Michigan police agencies? The debate rages as more plug in – Detroit News

A handful of Michigan police departments are in the early stages of trying out electric vehicles, although there are mixed opinions about their ability to handle the rigors of police work and whether their costs outweigh the benefits.

Lagging consumer sales last year forced automakers to cut back on EV production, even as municipalities throughout Michigan upped their investments in the technology. In 2023, Detroit’s Municipal Parking Department converted its entire fleet of 48 vehicles to EVs. Dearborn rolled out its first clean buses last year, and Detroit, Kalamazoo and Lansing each will receive a $5.9 million federal grants over five years to transition to electric school buses.

But while EVs may make sense for many municipal agencies, some experts said they’re not yet ideal for all law enforcement applications. Technological advances and a beefed-up infrastructure, however, are expected to make the vehicles more feasible for police work within a few years, they said.

The benefits of using EVs for police work, industry analysts and law enforcement officials said, are savings on fuel, zero emissions and the vehicles’ explosive takeoff power, while drawbacks include long charging times, concerns about range and the battery drain caused by computer and other equipment in squad cars.

Multiple police departments in Michigan have deployed hybrid gas-electric vehicles, although few state law enforcement agencies are using EVs. Ann Arbor has three Ford Mustang Mach-E vehicles, which in 2021 became the first all-electric models to pass the annual Michigan State Police Model Year Police Vehicle Evaluation.

“Currently our Mustang Mach-E vehicles are for admin(istrative) use and not patrol,” Ann Arbor Police spokesman Chris Page said in an email. “The chief, Detective Bureau, and our Community Engagement Unit is each assigned one.”

The Dearborn Police Department also uses a Mach E, while Sterling Heights is scheduled to deploy an all-electric “police pursuit vehicle” this spring, according to a city press release. It’s unclear how Dearborn’s car is being used, or which model Sterling Heights plans to deploy, and in what capacity. Dearborn and Sterling Heights police officials did not return phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

In December, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive ordering the state government to convert its fleet to zero-emission vehicles by 2040. The governor’s edict includes Michigan State Police, spokeswoman Shanon Banner said.

“The Executive Directive applies to all departments and agencies, so we’ll be reviewing it to determine how to best comply,” said Banner, who said MSP doesn’t have any EVs in its fleet.

Robert Stevenson, director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said EVs aren’t yet a good fit for most law enforcement applications.

“With the current technology, the widespread use of electric vehicles for police patrol is not practical,” Stevenson said. “Some of challenges that need to be addressed are concerns about the limited range. This is especially true in some of the larger rural patrol areas. It is much more likely that EVs could be used for administrative purposes where it is much easier to predict how and for what range they will be driven.”

Sam Abuelsamid, principal e-mobility analyst at the market research firm Guidehouse Inc., said electric police vehicles present unique challenges that aren’t an issue in other municipal departments, although he said those issues will likely be ironed out within a few years.

“Absolutely, EVs are not going to be the best solution for police in every application,” Abuelsamid said. “When you need a vehicle in service 24 hours a day, EVs are probably not your best option. You’d have to be charging a couple times a day, and that’s not a cost-effective way to operate an electric vehicle.

“Electrification makes sense for garbage trucks, school buses, postal workers and parking attendants because they typically operate at low speeds, and there’s an advantage in terms of noise, pollution and the operating costs versus diesel,” he said.

“Even in police work, there are some areas where EVs would make sense. If officers are sitting on a median with radar guns, and they’re idling with short bursts of speed — that’s perfect for an EV,” Abuelsamid said. “EVs have so much more acceleration ability than even the best gas vehicles today, and when you look at the operating costs of idling for hours, EVs might make more sense.”

One chief sings EVs’ praises

Of the 12 patrol vehicles entered into the Michigan State Police 2024 Model Year Police Vehicle Evaluation Program in October, two were EVs: the Chevrolet Blazer EV and the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which in 2021 became the first electric vehicle tested by MSP.

Last year, New York City purchased nearly 200 Ford Mach E’s, which can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than four seconds.

Todd Bertram, chief of the Bargersville Police Department in Indiana, said he’s happy with how his fleet of 13 Tesla EVs has performed since 2019.

“A conservative estimate is that we’re saving about $6,000 per year per car compared to gas vehicles on gas prices, oil changes and brakes,” Bertram said. “We still haven’t put brakes on these things, although they eat up tires. So that’s one of the negatives, although it’s cheaper to replace tires than brakes.”

Because Bargersville police officers drive between 120-200 miles per shift, he said charging the vehicles isn’t an issue.

“The (batteries) are rated at 300 (miles per charge), so even on a bad day, we still have time to come to the station and charge them,” Bertram said. “When the officers come back to the station to do paperwork, they can plug in and gain 10%-15% (power), and go back and do it again.”

Bertram said he would recommend EVs “for probably 90% of police departments, although there are a lot of variables. If you’re a state trooper and you’re taillight chasing and don’t have access to a Supercharger (Tesla’s charging stations), you’re probably not going to be happy because there’s going to be a lot of downtime (charging batteries).”

Tesla has 34 Supercharger stations in Michigan, which also can be used by some non-Tesla EVs.

“If you have access to a Supercharger, you could stop, do a 15-minute charge, and go right back on the road,” Bertram said. “In our situation, we don’t have access to a Supercharger in this rural community, although because we usually don’t drive more than 200 miles in a shift, we don’t need one.”

Spokane gives up on EVs

Spokane, Wash., police officials, however, gave a thumbs-down to the two Tesla models the department tested. In February 2022, Police Maj. Mike McNabb told the City Council’s Public Safety and Community Health Committee that the vehicles were “too small for police work.”

McNabb told the council the vehicles didn’t offer much legroom after computers and other equipment were installed. He also noted that bars can’t be attached over windows because of the vehicle’s frameless window design, which he said could present problems with aggressive detainees in the backseat.

There also are reports of police EVs running low on power during chases or while responding to calls.

EV expert Abuelsamid said EVs for busy rural police forces are “probably not a good idea,” because widespread charging options aren’t available, and those departments log a lot of miles. But he added that rapid advancements in battery technology may soon make that a moot issue.

“One of the things that makes sense for fleet vehicles like police is battery swapping,” he said. “Police forces tend to have homogeneous fleets of vehicles, which would make battery swapping more viable. It’s being done in China, where there are about 2,000 battery-swapping stations now. It takes about two-and-a-half minutes to swap batteries — about the time it takes to fill up a gas tank.”

Abuelsamid said while EVs still aren’t ideal for all police situations, “if you look into the 2030s and beyond, the situation looks entirely different.

“There’ll be more charging infrastructure, you’ll have better batteries and vehicles with more range,” he said. “Even in the next few years, I think it’ll become much more practical for police departments even in rural areas to use EVs.”

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