The discussion around electrifying law enforcement fleets is often a tricky one. For many agencies, fleet electrification seems unattainable and impractical. In fact, electrification and sustainability orders for municipalities and counties often exclude police vehicles.
But there are law enforcement agencies out there that are making this work.
Buy-In is a Crucial First Step
With any new and emerging technology, people can be skeptical. This is especially true for electric vehicles. Getting buy-in from every side – from the technicians maintaining the vehicles, to the officers driving them, to the stakeholders approving the purchase – is critical.
In Cobb County, Georgia, where the fleet electrification process began 10 years ago, it’s about putting people in the seats of the vehicles.
The first law enforcement vehicles to electrify in Cobb County were motorcycles, used by the county’s ranger unit, which patrols park properties. After two weeks of testing electric motorcycles, rangers were onboard.
“We did a lot of ride-and-drives, we put butts in seats, we put leadership in seats. And once we get the leadership on board, if the leadership is on board, everybody else will follow,” Cobb County Fleet Services Director Al Curtis said. “Especially if you show him the positive aspects of it: the vehicles are on the road longer and the preventive maintenance turnaround time is shorter.”
Duluth, Georgia, Police Department Capt. Robert Montgomery echoed this.
“Getting that buy in from the upper administration was very important; not only from the leadership, but also from the people who are going to drive the cars. When I first announced to the detectives that they were going to be going to EVs, they were a little miffed by it. And then we brought in some cars to drive and lo and behold they came on board just as strongly as the administration did. So it makes it a lot easier to make things happen for sure,” Montgomery said.
Test drives aren’t only important for leadership, stakeholders, and drivers; they’re also important for the technicians who work on the vehicles. This allows the technicians to experience firsthand some of the benefits of driving EVs.
“I have to get the buy-in from my technicians — to want to not only work on them, but also talk about them positively to the other officers or other user departments and other EV use cases. One of the things that helped us: we sent technicians to ride-and-drives,” Cobb County Carshop Supervisor Scott Misico added.
Case Studies in TCO Analyses
Oftentimes, getting buy-in also means crunching the numbers and showing the data to stakeholders.
Cobb County uses vans to bring prisoners to and from the jail to the courthouse. When the county needed a new van, the price tag on an electric one plus the cost of upfitting came to $15,000 less than it would have been for an ICE van purchase and upfit.
“A lot of people look at upfront costs on something, but you have to look over a period of time — the time it’s going to take you to pay for this asset, what it's going to cost you over that particular period of time. And we really made out well with that. And we were able to get them a vehicle that fit that duty cycle,” Curtis explained.
Look for Funding Opportunities
While a TCO analysis can prove the value of an EV, there’s no question the up-front cost of both the vehicle and infrastructure can cause some sticker shock. Montgomery suggested looking for what he calls “creative financing.”
The county where Duluth is — Gwinnett County — has a special local auction sales tax. Montgomery has been able to pull from those funds to help cover the cost of EV charging infrastructure.
As an early adopter, Cobb County had the advantage of applying for and receiving grants to cover the cost of its EV infrastructure early on. The county also partnered with an OEM to get a DC fast charger, as well as local utilities to install transformers and do trenching work.
Curtis also encouraged fleet managers to look for turnkey solution providers that can both do the heavy lifting in this process, and find ways to lower the cost.
Prepare for a Learning Curve
Sgt. Dewayne Morris of the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office emphasized that operating an EV is different than operating an internal combustion engine vehicle.
“One thing that surprises everybody is the actual zero to 60 speeds on the Ford Mustang Mach-Es. I mean they'll fly — which is good and bad. But it takes deputies a little bit to get used to it,” Morris said. “We usually give it to them and tell them to go drive it around for a while. And we assign it to a person; we're not putting this as a pool car. That way we can get the data from it and compare it to other EVs out there.”
Morris will use this data to determine whether to stick with the EVs the sheriff’s office has chosen, or whether it will test other EV models.
Montgomery’s team holds classes to educate officers on handling EVs before they’re assigned to them.
“There is some knowledge that needs to go behind how to drive the cars to get the most out of them for sure,” Montgomery said.
Don’t Expect the Entire Fleet to Electrify
Morris recommends rolling out EVs in your law enforcement fleet in waves. Start by electrifying the vehicles used for jobs that can be done in an EV, where officers don’t need to drive as many miles.
“Don't expect everything to go to electric. Because we pick up prisoners from our jail, drive them 180 miles down to the state prison diagnostic center and drop them off. I don't think we can pull over an electric bus on the side of the road to charge for prisoners in the back. So there are limitations,” he said.
This is where technology plays a key role in the planning process. Use data from telematics devices and maintenance systems to assess vehicle duty cycles to help you determine which ICE vehicles can logically be replaced with EVs.
Considerations in EV Upfitting
Cobb County uses a local upfitter for its police vehicle equipment. Morris said the EV upfitting process has gone smoothly, in part because equipment for EVs is more readily available than equipment for their ICE vehicle counterparts. Upfitting the EVs, in Morris’ opinion, has been fairly easy.
He stressed the importance of finding an upfitter who is EVT- (Emergency Vehicle Technician) certified. Not only will they have a better understanding of working on emergency vehicles, but he believes they can also be relied on to not damage the EV battery during the process.
Upfitting a specialty vehicle can be a bit more complicated than upfitting a patrol vehicle, however. Curtis struggled to find an upfitter to work on the electric prisoner transport van, because none of the upfitters he approached had ever worked on one.
Eventually, he landed on American Aluminum to upfit the prisoner cage specifically.
“They wanted to be on the cutting edge. We look for cutting edge upfitters, people that are looking to do things that are out of the box and learn,” Curtis said.
The Importance of Proper EV Maintenance and Repair Training
“Training is king. Utilize those who know what they're doing on the vehicle, and then mentor those who are younger or newer. Mentoring is a big tool too,” Misico said.
Misico has found that diagnostic equipment is also key in maintaining older EVs. He uses the equipment to test the state of health on the batteries. According to the manufacturer, Misico said, some of the county’s older EVs — 2015 model sedans — are close to the end of their useful life.
However, diagnostic equipment revealed they are still at about an 85% state of health. Misico also noted that charging the vehicles on Level 2 chargers instead of DC fast chargers can prolong their life.
The county is also testing the waters in updating older EVs. The team picked out one of its 2015 EVs, which only had 8,000 miles because it hadn’t been used much, and replaced its battery. That vehicle went from having an 87-mile range to having a 240-mile range. Bringing new life to older vehicles has proven to be a good teaching moment for the technicians.
“It’s a sense of pride. The technicians like to go above and beyond, they like to excel, and they like to say, ‘I did this and nobody else could or nobody else has yet,’” Misico said.
Trial by Error
Adopting EVs is not easy in any fleet. There will be challenges along the way, but other law enforcement agencies’ success stories prove that it is possible, even if only in small increments.
“There's a lot of stuff we don't know yet. But we're learning as we go. So it's trial by error,” Morris said.
Want to attend educational sessions like this one? Police Fleet Conference returns to GFX this year in Louisville, Kentucky.
Register by April 5 to snag the Early Bird Rate and save $200 on the full conference fleet pass, which gives you access to educational sessions like this, as well as ample networking opportunities to learn from your peers.