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Electrified Police Cruisers, Fleets a Sign of the Times

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Sept. 29, 2021—Though formalized police forces have existed in some capacity in the United States since the 1830s, the history of the police cruiser starts a bit later. 

The first motorized police cruiser was an electric wagon employed in 1899 in Akron, Ohio, though it wasquite understandablya far cry from the modern police cruisers roaming the streets today. 

As the years progressed, police vehicles evolved. Following WWII as the auto industry began to boom and vehicles were becoming more common on the roadways, police needed increasingly powerful and more dependable cars to keep up. In the '60s and '70s, "police packages" became the industry standard: OEMs would have to meet certain specs put forward by law enforcement agencies and compete against other manufacturers to win contracts.

As a result, today's police cruisers are specialized machines geared for short bursts of high performance. Fiat Chrysler Fleet's 2021 Dodge Charger Pursuit, its latest iteration of the police cruiser, comes standard with a Pentastar 3.6 liter V6 engine, eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, with an option for 5.7 liter V8 engine and rear-wheel drive. Add in a maximum 370 horsepower on the V8 and a top speed around 140 mph according to Motor Trend, and it seems as though we've reached peak cruiser performance. 

At least, it appears that way at first. As we've covered extensively on ADAPT, it seems every sector of the automotive industry is making the push toward electric vehicles. Coincidentally, Dodge's own CEO, Tim Kuniskis, earlier this year during a Stellantis-sponsored event said the transition to EVs was almost inevitable.

"Our engineers are reaching a practical limit on what they can squeeze from internal combustion innovation," Kuniskis said. "Electric motors can give us more, and if we know of a technology that can give our customers an advantage, we have an obligation to embrace it."

The law enforcement community is no different. As agencies become more focused on not only serving and protecting their communities but doing so in efficient and more sustainable ways, electric vehicles seem like a natural transition point. 

Long gone are the days when EVs were a niche market consisting of mostly underpowered, overpriced vehicles that were little more than a gimmick. Just this past week, Ford's Mustang Mach-E became the first fully electric vehicle to pass the rigorous Michigan State Police test. The exam is designed to key specs on potential patrol cars such acceleration, top speed, braking, high-speed pursuit and emergency response handling, as well as to see how well they hold up against tests designed to simulate real-world conditions that law enforcement faces on a daily basis.

EVs are quickly matching the raw power and speed needed by modern law enforcement agencies, too. In Eden Prairie, Minn., the local police department recently purchased a Tesla Model Y and gave ADAPT the opportunity to come check out the vehicle. Boasting an impressive 384 horsepower on its base model and a top speed near 150 mph, the Model Y stacks up quite well against its ICE counterparts. 

Patrol Sergeant Scott Mittelstatd says even with the learning curve that comes with EVs, the new squad car handles just as well as any other vehicle he's used to this point.

“We wanted to be able to make sure that it can do the same things as every other vehicle in the fleet,"  Mittelstatd says. "If we can do it with zero emissions, it’s that much better."

So far, the Model Y has been able to do the same things, and at a more cost-friendly rate to boot. With a 300+ mile range on a single charge, an extensive warrant from Tesla and a standard maintenance schedule not that different than an ICE vehicle, city officials say the patrol car should end up costing the city around $3,000 less than an ICE-powered unit over the lifespan of the vehicle. 

Though ICEs will still have a place in the car parc for decades to come, EVs are becoming increasingly reliable and able to compete with even the top-line gas-powered cars. Repairers will have to continue adapting to the changing landscape, and securing contracts with local fleets such as municipal police and fire departments is a good way to get ahead.

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