Where's a Good Cop Car When You Need One?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 03 Apr 2012

This week I got an call from our local community college police force. They wanted to know if I was aware of any electric cars that could be used by their big, burly, bullet-proof vest-wearing officers to replace their aging patrol cars. David Friend told me they had purchased, with the help of a grant, a couple CNG-fueled Chevrolet Impalas last year.

I asked him how their vehicles typically were used. Mostly on slow patrols around the old Fort Omaha campus, he told me, but then after 10 pm, they occasionally have to drive down to the South Omaha campus to check possible alarms. That ruled out NEV's like the GEM, which other law enforcement and security services use. Friend also was concerned about his officers staying warm during usually cold winters in this part of the country. Having AC running in the summer would also be important. Oh yes, and it needs to have a sufficient electrical system to handle the police lights on top of the vehicle. Four-wheel drive would be helpful, he added. The cars would not, however, be used in high-speed pursuits.

Had he looked at the Nissan LEAF, I asked. Only online, he replied, and its dimensions simply didn't seem big enough for his 6.3, 230 pound officers in full kit. Okay, so we could rule out the Tesla Roadster. Maybe the Ford Focus EV. NYPD uses the Chevrolet Volt for some of its patrol activities.

The only practical solution I could come up with were plug-in conversions by Alt-E, HEVT, and Via that take your stock Ford F150 and turn it into a electric hybrid [http://evworld.com/news.cfm?newsid=23810]. They could patrol the flat campus grounds of the old Fort in electric mode, consuming a dollar's worth of electricity most days, but having the capability to drive in hybrid mode to the other campus if and when needed.

Starting not long after the introduction of the Toyota Prius, police departments and security services have brought electric drive vehicles into their fleets, the most recent being the NYPD's purchase of Chevrolet Volts. But still, there is the psychological factor that big, heavy, cruisers like the Ford Crown Victoria, not only offer law enforcement personnel great protection, but also give the community a greater feeling security, something that's harder to do with Priuses.

So, what would be the ideal electric cop car? Well, if you believe CSI Miami, it's a Hummer. Problem is, GM doesn't make them anymore, though in the past there have been efforts to give them e-drives going back to the mid-1990s. There were even hydrogen powered Hummers; Arnold Schwarzenegger order one once when he was governor of California.

Having the ability to operate in EV-mode (stealth) would certainly be an advantage, especially in campus patrols like those on my local community college. Of course, the officers would need to be comfortable, as well as secure. An ethanol-powered heater in winter like that used in the Volvo C30 Electric could provide lots of warmth without draining the battery or running the IC engine. In summer a heat pump-based AC system could help keep them cool, as would a roof-mounted solar panel that could run a ventilation fan and provide tickle charging to the batteries to run the police light bar.

A back seat would be essential for hauling tipsy students or bungling burglars. Friend also emphasized the need for a large trunk since his officers also have to carry various types of equipment. He didn't specify what. 4WD, especially in snow and ice conditions, would be useful, as would the ability to provide emergency back up power from an onboard inverter.

Of course, there are any number of gas engine SUVs that could be converted: AMP Motors does a nice Mercedes and Jeep Grand Cherokee conversion, but they're not cheap, especially when compared to CNG alternatives.

My biggest issue with CNG is that it's still a depletable fossil fuel, certainly better than gasoline and way better than diesel, but while it's currently a relatively abundant alternative to petroleum or biofuels, it doesn't really move us much beyond where we are now. But for a small community college, it's pretty hard to justify the cost of a conversion which could be three times that of the CNG model, even taking into consideration the cost of the refueling infrastructure.

So, here's the challenge: How do we provide the police departments of the nation with a cop car that offers the operational cost savings of an EV, their quiet, stealth-like cruising capabilities, their excellent acceleration, the ability to switch to hybrid mode at the drop of a hat, the roominess burly police officers need, the safety once afforded by heavy frame rail-based Detroit iron and 4WD, a rear seat, a spacious trunk, enough juice to ran that big light bar on the roof and provide off-board emergency power, and be large enough to impress but not intimidate… and yes, be affordable.

Of that list, the last is probably the hardest. How do you pull all these elements together and not hit and run police department budgets? Any thoughts?

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