City police add electric car, motorcycle to fleet

The Hyattsville City Police Department has added an electric car, a Chevrolet Bolt, to its fleet. Photo credit Holly Brevig.

BY HOLLY BREVIG — The Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) has added a Chevrolet Bolt electric car and a Zero electric motorcycle to its fleet.

“Now, this is not a unique idea,” said HCPD Sgt. Hartnett. “There are police departments across the country that have taken in electric cars.”

The difference, however, is in the make and model of the car. New York City is turning to the Chevrolet Volt, which, according to Harnett, “only goes about 35 to 40 miles on a charge, and then the gas motor kicks in and generates electricity, almost like a hybrid. In a Volt, the gas motor does nothing but generate electricity — it’s running off the battery the whole time — unlike a regular hybrid.” Other police departments have added the Nissan Leaf, which has an estimated range of 100 miles per charge, as part of code-enforcement fleets. Hartnett said, “The problem, in the past, is that most of the electric cars that were available didn’t have a long range. If you are in a small town, then having a limited range is probably OK, but here we needed something with more range.”

The Chevrolet Bolt is a game changer, with an estimated range of 238 miles per charge. This is important because one police car may drive 65 miles on a shift. Up until the Chevrolet Bolt came out in 2016, the only car available with this kind of range was a Tesla, which carries an $80,000 price tag. “Most governments are not going to front that kind of money for a police car. A typical police car costs about $24,000 or $25,000 before you put the equipment in it,” said Hartnett. The Chevrolet Bolt starts at $37,000. “Although the Bolt is still on the high side for a police car, it’s a cost-effective alternative to a Tesla, and when you figure in all the benefits of [low] maintenance and the mileage, I think it’s still a worthwhile investment.”

 

So how did the HCPD get an electric car and motorcycle? “I approached the police department almost three years ago about the concept of getting an electric car, and they said, ‘Well, you know, maybe … if you can find some grant money,’” said Hartnett.

The sergeant describes himself as a “big electric vehicle enthusiast,” and owns an electric car, himself. He knew the police department had worked with the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) in the past to acquire green-friendly, cleaner vehicles. These include Segues, low-speed, electric vehicles used for parking and code enforcement, and seven gas-powered vehicles equipped with anti-idling devices. Hartnett explained anti-idling devices by saying, “[The car has] two spare batteries mounted in the trunk, so … they can turn the motor off, and these extra batteries run all the equipment, so it doesn’t kill the main battery.” The police department also has vehicles equipped with flex fuel options, which “burn things besides gas, such as a mixture of corn alcohol and gas, which burns cleaner and has less carbon emissions when you drive it,” stated Hartnett.

The MEA, which is not affiliated with police departments, routinely has grants available for transportation projects. The HCPD’s Chevrolet Bolt was purchased through an MEA petroleum reduction project, Hartnett said. Hartnett said he requested two electric vehicles, a motorcycle, and 4 outdoor 240 volt, Level 2 charging stations when he wrote the grant. The police department was granted one electric vehicle (the Bolt), an electric motorcycle (the Zero Electric), and two outdoor charging stations. Eighty percent of the vehicle costs were covered by the grant. “We still had to equip the car; that wasn’t included. The bike, on the other hand, came from the manufacturer with the lights and [a] siren — everything already on it.” He also explained that there is a federal tax credit for purchasing an electric car, and that residents of Maryland who purchase an electric car can apply for a rebate of up to $10,000.

“It’s really an experiment,” Hartnett said. “I mean, we’re looking to see how practical it [the electric car] would be in everyday police work.” The Chevrolet Bolt is not as big as a regular police car, which is an important consideration if an officer needs to carry equipment and/or passengers, but “its quietness, assists on the job,” says Harnett. “Our goal for the motorcycle is to use it primarily on bike paths and pedestrian paths to watch for robberies in the night time. It’s perfect. It’s completely quiet, and you can patrol where a [gas-powered] car couldn’t patrol.”

Police Chief Doug Holland commented, “I commend Sgt. Hartnett for his initiative to seek out and successfully complete the grant process to bring this new technology into the daily operations of the police department.”

Hartnett said he is looking forward to demonstrating the cost savings of an electric vehicle compared to a gas-powered vehicle. “Because the electric car doesn’t have a transmission, it’ll require a lot less maintenance than a gas-powered car.” He further noted, “The nice thing about electricity is it’s home grown, and there’s a lot of ways to get it aside from just burning coal,” such as solar panels, and wind and water turbines.