There is no one-size-fits-all solution when weighing the pros and cons to EVs and hybrid vehicles. It will depend heavily on your agency’s needs. - Photo: Government Fleet

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when weighing the pros and cons to EVs and hybrid vehicles. It will depend heavily on your agency’s needs.

Photo: Government Fleet

The question of whether to power law enforcement fleets with alternative fuels can be a contentious one.

Oftentimes, electrification and sustainability orders for municipalities, counties, and states tend to exclude police vehicles altogether. This has often been due to the lack of availability of alt-fuel pursuit-rated vehicles to choose from, though many agencies are experimenting with non-pursuit-rated vehicles as they wait for the market to expand.

When it comes to powering police vehicles with an alternative fuel, most agencies are opting for hybrids or electric vehicles (EVs). But which is better? Some say it depends on the application, while others say both can be used for various jobs. Government Fleet talked to four agencies about their use of green fuels to power their blue fleets.

Leon County Sheriff’s Office: Taking Baby Steps to Get Buy-In

Two white unmarked Tesla 3s sit side by side in a parking lot.

The Teslas have been used in every application across the Leon County Sheriff's Office fleet but are mostly used in pursuit training and for detectives

Photo: Leon County Sheriff's Office

The Leon County Sheriff's Office in Florida began its transition toward cleaner fuels in 2018 with the purchase of a Toyota Camry hybrid vehicle.

Fleet Management Division Director Tim Coxwell wanted to test the waters in alternative fuels, so he used the vehicle as a sort of guinea pig for the fleet. It was assigned as a pool vehicle for the detective unit.

After seeing promising results, he began replacing all detective vehicles — Chevrolet Impalas that averaged 16 miles per gallon — with Toyota Camry hybrids, which averaged 53 miles per gallon.

“It was a big initial savings for every single one that I put on the road. We had to learn how to upfit them, but it was really simpler than most people thought it would be. We kept every approach as simple as possible,” Coxwell said.

Now, the agency has roughly 100 hybrids across the fleet, used in various applications. But he didn’t have buy-in across the board at the beginning.

Detectives and deputies didn’t think the hybrids could do the job. But the realization that they didn’t need to fill up as often brought them onboard pretty quickly. Deputies and detectives who were used to filling up their cars with gasoline two to three times per week were now able to go up to three weeks without needing more gas.

This also led to another cost savings that Coxwell hadn’t originally considered - fewer fill-ups means less wear and tear on fuel islands. These are big wins that you likely wouldn’t know about until you’ve added an alt fuel vehicle to your fleet.

“There are all these trickle-down benefits to improving the fuel efficiency of your fleet. There are lots of additional benefits that aren't really seen in a spreadsheet when you're just comparing the models and their replacement products,” Coxwell explained.

Coxwell also took the baby steps approach in adding EVs to the fleet. He needed to convince the sheriff EVs were a worthy investment that could handle the rigors of law enforcement work.

After about a year of bringing case studies and data to the sheriff, Coxwell was given the green light to buy three Tesla Model 3s in September 2021. For the first several months, Coxwell’s team worked on upfitting them and experimenting with the battery capacity. In June 2022, he felt comfortable assigning them to full-time daily use.

The Teslas have been used in every application across the fleet but are mostly used in pursuit training and for detectives. Now, the agency is moving into a sort of second phase, adding another 17 EVs to the fleet.

The purchases help the county toward its goal of replacing 30% of the internal combustion engine (ICE) light-duty vehicle fleet with EVs by 2030. Coxwell is taking a slow and steady approach to do his part in helping the county achieve this goal.

“In order for us to keep pace with that, we've got to introduce it a little bit at a time, and we have to build out our infrastructure to accommodate what we introduce. And we need to slowly enter that market and make sure that what we're doing fits the application the vehicles are being used for,” Coxwell said.

The new batch of vehicles should arrive in the fall to begin the upfitting process. They will be introduced in the field to the command staff.

“That's the next level that we've got to show and convince. And we've got to show them the value of the reduced maintenance costs to them in the way they use the vehicle as a tool to do their job. So that's the next stage of winning hearts and minds within the agency,” Coxwell added.

That command staff currently drives hybrids. Those vehicles will now be purchased further down in the agency to introduce them to even more applications and drivers.

Coxwell’s advice for bringing end users onboard when introducing a brand-new vehicle is to let them test it for themselves.

“As you choose the product, that's where you have to get driver input. Pick a vehicle they will like,” he said.

West Lafayette PD: Cutting Back on Idle Time with Hybrids

A gray Ford Police Interceptor Utility Hybrid with the the West Lafayette PD badge and 'WLPD' is shown.

The switch to hybrids for West Lafayette PD has cut down idle time from up to 40 hours per week to around 50 minutes. In engine idle time, that’s 11.1 gallons vs. 1.1 gallons.

Photo: West Lafayette Police Department

The West Lafayette, Indiana, Police Department is growing its fleet with more hybrids. The agency purchased its first alt-fuel vehicles — Ford PIU hybrids — in 2021, and currently has 13.

There are plans to add six more to the fleet this year. Initially, the team waited for more data and case studies to come out about the vehicles after they were first introduced with the 2020 model year.

Since adding the vehicles to the fleet, Capt. Art Choate told GF that officers have been impressed with the way the vehicles drive.

Beyond officer impressions, stakeholders were also pleased with the fuel savings brought on by the hybrids, telling the department that they wanted to exclusively purchase hybrids when vehicle replacements are needed.

On hybrids, the gasoline engine shuts off after the vehicle has sat for a certain period of time, relying on the battery to power the vehicle. This enables the engine to run less frequently, being activated only intermittently to recharge the battery.

Choate said this technology has cut down idle time from up to 40 hours per week to around 50 minutes. In engine idle time, that’s 11.1 gallons vs. 1.1 gallons.

Less idle time not only reduces emissions output — something the fleet has as a general goal — but it also leads to less wear and tear on the engine and provides even greater fuel efficiency for the hybrids.

Cobb Co. Police: Insights on Servicing Hybrids

A gray Ford PIU Hybrid with a gold Cobb County Sheriff's Office decal sits in a parking lot.

Law enforcement officers with both the Cobb County Sheriff's Office and police departments have said they enjoy the performance of the Ford PIU Hybrid, and technicians have learned a lot about new technology so they can stay ahead of the curve.

Photo: Cobb County

Before stepping into his role as fleet manager for the city of South Fulton, Georgia, Scott Misico worked as a shop supervisor just down the road in Cobb County. His years of servicing alt-fuel vehicles gave him a unique perspective.

The Cobb County fleet department is in a unique position in that it manages two law enforcement fleets — the Cobb County Police and Cobb County Sheriff’s Office. Both agencies have a mix of alt-fuel vehicles on their fleets, with Ford PIU hybrids accounting for most of the non-ICE vehicles.

While Ford’s PIU hybrid model was the best fit based on the warranty for the high-voltage system, the vehicle didn’t come without issue for the maintenance team. Misico said the oil filter is tough to access because of the hybrid wire harness.

Misico said his team also occasionally had trouble when there were electrical problems, because it was hard to determine whether it was an OEM issue or the outsourced upfitter. While this is something Misico said he’s faced with vehicles besides hybrids, it did seem to be more prevalent with the hybrids.

“The solution to this dilemma ended up being for us to become the experts on the vehicle and solve these electrical issues in-house,” Misico said.

In terms of powering the equipment, the Ford PIU hybrid has an auxiliary battery, a separate fuse block, and separate wire harness that the ICE model doesn’t have.

Misico’s team found that the auxiliary battery was inadequate in supplying enough power for some of the builds, so the team doubled the reserve capacity of the battery on some of the vehicles. That proved to work well for some of the vehicles that were draining the main battery after the auxiliary battery died.

Overall, Misico said the officers love the performance of the vehicle and the technicians learned a lot about new technology so they can stay ahead of the curve.

The fleet department has worked alongside the sheriff’s office in finding ways to effectively utilize EVs. In Cobb County, they work well for deputies who work part-time in the office and part-time in the field performing tasks like issuing warrants.

The county also has an all-electric prisoner transport van, which has worked well.

A white electric cargo van is shown with the Cobb County Sheriff's Office logo and badge on the sides.

Cobb County took ownership of the first all-electric prisoner transport van in the nation in 2022.

Photo: Cobb County Sheriff's Office

One of the issues agencies with take-home vehicle programs may face in adopting EVs is providing home charging infrastructure.

“I encourage others considering EVs for police operations to work closely with vendors to who have innovative solutions to this issue,” Misico said.

Helping Other Fleets Go Green

Misico is able to take his experience working with alt-fuel vehicles to his new fleet. In South Fulton, the city recently embarked on an EV Initiative, which began with the acquisition of 10 EVs for city use.

There are plans to expand the program from services and code enforcement vehicles to special service vehicles across various departments, as well as to provide more charging infrastructure.

Through a program with Georgia Power, the city is slated to install chargers at nine public-facing sites. There are plans to eventually have 58 chargers citywide to be used both by the fleet and public.

The city has outlined plans to introduce EVs to the police fleet by 2025, and hopes to electrify 30% of the city’s entire fleet using grant funds. The city also plans to purchase hybrids that could account for up to 15% of the fleet.

Want to pinpoint a dollar amount on potential cost savings for an EV vs. an existing ICE vehicle from your fleet? Check out this step-by-step formula here.

Fort Bragg PD: Thoughts on EVs One Year In

A black Ford F-150 Lightning Pro SSV with white doors and the Fort Brag PD logo is shown sitting in front of the ocean.

The decision to purchase pickup trucks for police work was a good one for Fort Bragg PD, because of the rugged coastline that often requires four-wheel drive, as well as the high ground clearance, towing capabilities and added storage space in the frunk.

Photo: City of Fort Bragg

In California, public sector fleets are facing pressure, after the first stage of the Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) regulation began this year, with requirements for 50% of new vehicle acquisitions for vehicles over 8,500 GVWR to be zero-emission vehicles.

As it stands, vehicles that fall under California Vehicle Code 165, which are defined as those used to respond to emergency calls, are exempt. Still, the regulation may expand over time as more options roll out onto the market.

The Fort Bragg Police Department is one year in from taking ownership of its first EVs — five Ford Lightning Pro Special Service Vehicles (SSVs). In fall 2022, the tiny but mighty department committed to replacing half of its fleet with Lightning Pro SSVs. Additionally, the city council previously set a goal for the city fleet to move to EVs.

Cervenka is leveraging support with planning and funding where possible. The PG&E EV Fleet program is assisting with the charging station infrastructure, as is the California Air Resources Board. The USDA provided funding to offset the cost of the vehicles themselves, which allowed the department to purchase five new vehicles for the general fund cost of two.

Police Chief Neil Cervenka began researching EV options several years ago, forecasting regulations would eventually hit public safety vehicles.

With a fleet of SUVs, Cervenka never expected to land on a pickup truck.

“I’d never used a pickup for patrol work, nor had any of the officers in Fort Bragg, but it made sense for many reasons,” Cervenka told Ford.

The choice worked well because of the rugged coastline that often requires four-wheel drive, as well as the high ground clearance, towing capabilities and added storage space in the frunk.

In addition to the ACF requirements, Cervenka saw the opportunity for long-term cost savings. After putting the first four Lightning Pro SSVs in service, the team conducted a gas and electricity cost comparison year-over-year. Once the entire marked fleet of eight vehicles is converted to EV, the department expects to see a $40,000 per year overall savings.

The department has also seen another positive in its switch to EVs: vehicle service time. The fleet team reported that routine service on an ICE vehicle takes roughly 2.5 hours, while it takes less than one hour for the Lightning Pro SSVs. The vehicles do go through tires faster, Cervenka noted, but that is really the only maintenance required.

Overcoming Charging Hurdles

Cervenka said the biggest technical hurdle was the transition away from gas vehicles and learning how and when to charge. 

With only Level 1 chargers in place due to supply chain constraints slowing down the installation of faster chargers, Cervenka told Ford that officers can plug in their trucks at the end of their shift and return to a fully charged vehicle the next day. This works in the interim.

“We’re a small city, and it’s common for officers to drive the truck for two or three 12-hour shifts without needing to recharge them,” Cervenka added.

There was a learning curve with teaching officers about charging levels, too. When two sergeants took one of the EVs to a recruitment fair about 190 miles away, they routed to a Level 1 public charger, since they didn’t know the difference between charger levels.

After plugging the vehicle in, they realized it would take several hours to charge the vehicle fully. Having already missed the window to set up their fair booth, the sergeants had no choice but to finish charging and head home.

Cervenka wanted to ensure the officers knew public EV charging could work on long-distance trips, so he and a sergeant opted to drive the EV to a law enforcement expo that was 600 miles away.

He used Ford’s Connected Built-In Navigation system, filtering charger locations by charging level, and was able to use exclusively Level 3 chargers. The total charging costs came to $103.

Cervenka’s advice to agencies planning for electrification to focus on the charging options early. Level 3 chargers are an absolute must, he said.

Officers ended up adjusting to the EV technology somewhat quickly – about a month. Once they were comfortable, they preferred the Lightning to the previous department vehicle — the Ford PIU.

Cervenka said training them the basics of EV use is critical for a successful deployment. Faster acceleration can be an adjustment.

Cervenka told GF that the community has responded well to the adoption of EVs on the fleet, with some enjoying the taxpayer cost-savings and other supporting the environmental aspect. He hopes to electrify the rest of the fleet as long as the department can keep grant money coming in.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when weighing the pros and cons to EVs and hybrid vehicles. It will depend heavily on your agency’s needs.

Coxwell believes either option could work in virtually every scenario, unless your agency covers a large regional area like a national park or large county. The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing the vehicle, Coxwell said, is this:

“What is the range of the vehicle you choose for the job that you're doing? It really is based on vehicle miles traveled daily and your annual utilization. And if you're not exceeding those things, then there's not a reason to avoid it, at least making the attempt.”

Coxwell said he understands the hesitancy to use alt-fuel vehicles, especially EVs, among first responders.

“They risk their lives to protect the public. They have to plan to some degree for the worst-case scenario. When you tell them that a vehicle has a range of 265 miles, even though that vehicle will not be driven 265 miles a day, on average, there could be one day that it does. They have to plan ways to avoid the worst-case scenario. That is the hardest thing for fleet managers to get across to their customers from police departments, fire departments, and EMS,” Coxwell said.

Cervenka advises fleet decision-makers to see what others are doing that works.

“Go to agencies with EVs in use already. Talk to the officers using them and ensure your emergency equipment outfitter is comfortable with EVs,” he said. “EVs may not be for everyone yet…however, most municipal agencies would be a great location for implementation.”

Bottom line, it’s hard to figure out what will work for your agency if you don’t test the different options.

“Failure to try is one of the biggest failures there is. Because there's zero chance you'll be successful if you don't attempt it,” he said.

About the author
Christy Grimes

Christy Grimes

Senior Editor

Christy Grimes is a Senior Editor at Bobit, working on Automotive Fleet and Government Fleet publications. She has also written for School Bus Fleet.

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