California Is, Once Again, Considering Tesla Police Vehicles

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Ever since Ford discontinued the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, it’s become much harder to watch out for cops. Initially, you just had to keep tabs on any Dodge Charger in dark paint, but that quickly evolved into drivers becoming suspicious of every monochrome Explorer, Taurus, Durango, Tahoe, or Fusion Hybrid on the road as law enforcement began adopting the models for official use.

A police department in Fremont, California has added a Tesla that list, garnering tons of media attention in the process. However, after looking into the story, it seems Fremont is only testing a single, second-hand Tesla Model S 85D it purchased a year ago to see if the model is fit for service. Considering this is the same city where Tesla manufactures the vehicle, one would think the Fremont Police could have worked out some kind of deal with the factory. However, what interests us — and probably the department — most is figuring whether or not the 2014 Model S can actually hack it beneath the thin blue line.

California has a serious obsession with electric vehicles, allowing the opportunity for a brief preamble on the usefulness of electric cop cars. In January of 2018, the LAPD garnered criticism for leaving its multi-million-dollar fleet of BMW i3s mostly idle. Many claimed the limited range made personnel reluctant to use the vehicles for anything other than trips to the courthouse or parking enforcement.

LAPD Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas defended the program when questioned about the limited usage of the vehicles, saying, “It’s all a part of saving the Earth, going green … quite frankly, to try and save money for the community and the taxpayers.”

Before that, the LAPD considered fielding Teslas and even had a pilot program in the works to evaluate the Model S as a squad car. That ended with the department claiming that, despite its unparalleled speed, the electric sedan was simply too costly to implement.

What makes Fremont’s Tesla so different? Well, for starters, it’s used. Rather than snag a sparkly new Model S from the factory, the department spent the past year outfitting a used one for active duty evaluation.

From the Fremont Police:

The pilot team purchased a used 2014 Tesla Model S 85 in January 2018 for $61,478.50 (including taxes and fees) to replace a 2007 Dodge Charger which was scheduled to be taken out of service due to age. The Tesla is the only electric vehicle that met specifications for size, performance, battery range, and safety, all required for a fully deployable patrol vehicle. Tesla electric vehicles are manufactured locally in Fremont.

Since purchasing the vehicle, the Police Department has been working with vendors to install the standard police equipment such as the light bar, push bumper, and ballistic barriers. The total invoiced costs for modifications to date are $4,447 and are expected to increase as final invoices come in. In comparison, a Ford Explorer with the police package costs approximately $40,000 with additional modification costs that are comparable to the Tesla. The initial buildup cost of the Tesla is slightly higher than that of a Ford due to the necessary customizations.

However, according to a pdf provided by the City of Fremont and its police department, law enforcement seems to believe that the EV will make up the difference after 90,000 miles of service. Due to the Tesla having fewer moving parts, it believes the EV won’t suffer as much routine maintenance — resulting in less downtime and fewer repair bills. Chuck in its electric powertrain, and Fremont can also claim the Model S would save the department thousands of dollars in fuel while also producing one-tenth the carbon dioxide of a gas-powered Ford Police Interceptor Utility after five years.

The police estimate the cost of gas over a five-year period for the police Ford Explorer at approximately $32,000, with maintenance estimated to be around $15,000. Meanwhile, it puts the Tesla’s energy bill at around $5,000, with less than $4,000 in maintenance — which feels a little unrealistic.

“The electric patrol vehicle pilot program is an extension of the City’s clean technology and smart city initiatives to help make Fremont a more sustainable community,” said Fremont Police Captain Sean Washington. “Given that Fremont Police vehicle fleet is responsible for a total of 980 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, this program has the potential to eliminate 10 percent of all municipal greenhouse gas emissions.”

To support plug-in vehicles, the city’s police complex installed 872 kW of solar carport structures onsite and three additional charging stations. The hope here is that, once the department adopts more EVs, it’ll already have a place for them.

This isn’t a case of love at first sight. While Fremont wants to appear green and ready to embrace the model, questions exist as to how its electric powertrain will cope with the kind of abuse officers will no doubt inflict on it. There are also concerns regarding the EV’s range. While the department says most of its patrol vehicles won’t travel than 70 miles per day, it’s not sure if the Model S can manage that distance, considering a patrol vehicle’s average day: sitting idle while running accessories followed by routine bouts of very aggressive driving.

The City of Fremont says the pilot program team will assess the Model S’ ability to perform the necessary duties of a police car while also monitoring its durability, effective range, and cost over time. It will also provide photos and information showing how the car holds up once fully operational and engaged in active patrol.

[Image: Fremont Police]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 42 comments
  • IBx1 IBx1 on Jan 29, 2019

    I was curious to know the average daily mileage and glad to see that figure reported. Accessories like a power point for computers likely won't draw that much power and HVAC won't need as much either, since the area's climate is temperate. Sounds like a win-win, supporting local manufacturing and cutting operating costs, but I want to see how they hold up to being used as bumper cars.

  • Jpolicke Jpolicke on Jan 29, 2019

    If they could integrate the police computer with the Tesla dash screen they might have something. I haven’t heard anything about how good Tesla seats are for all day use.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.