Cops Abandon High-Speed Chase When Their Tesla Battery Runs Down

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Don’t feed the sheriff’s horse tonight and Blaze won’t much feel like chasing cattle rustlers tomorrow. Don’t gas up the Ford Interceptor and you not make it much farther than Dunkin in the morning. Now the cops are learning: If you don’t charge your Tesla police car, the next shift won’t mount a very long high-speed pursuit. It happened this month in Fremont, California. The police department’s Tesla ran low on juice and the chase was called off after about eight miles. The Fremont PD said it was for reasons of public safety.

The 2014 Tesla Model S, purchased used, is believed to be the first electric police car placed on patrol duty in the US. It’s part of a pilot program for the city to determine how well EVs can slot into mainstream police work. EVs are already used for peripheral use, such as patrolling metered public parking lots.

Tesla Model Model S 85 when it was acquired. (Photos: Fremont Police
Department)

Here’s what happened: Sept. 20, the Tesla was on patrol. It began pursuit of what police described as a “felony vehicle,” a Toyota Avalon, on Interstate 680 South in Fremont. The chased reached peak speeds of 120 mph. Several minutes into the chase, officer Jess Hartman noticed the Tesla was low on power. He radioed the dispatcher and said, “I am down to six miles of battery on the Tesla so I may lose it here in a sec.” Moments later, he added, “If someone else is able, can they maneuver into the number one spot?”

Shortly after Hartman reported his low-battery condition, traffic began to clog up and the driver of the pursued vehicle took to the breakdown lane. That led the Tesla to break off the chase and exit the highway in San Jose. Hartman radioed, “I’ve got to try to find a charging station for the Tesla so I can make it back to the city.” That he did, took on some more juice, and drove back to headquarters.

The pursued car was later found crashed in bushes and abandoned. The driver apparently fled on foot. He was wanted on a felony warrant from Santa Clara, police said.

As to what went wrong, a police spokesperson said that “[officer] Hartman was monitoring the charge and responsibly notifying everyone of its status.” (The cops don’t like to say somebody messed up.) While the car is being driven, the officers inside are responsible for checking the fuel or battery level, although it’s seldom an issue in urban/suburban patrols. Larger police departments typically have maintenance workers responsible for refueling. In smaller departments, it may be an end-of-shift task. The Fremont PD did note the car somehow hadn’t been plugged in to charge at the end of its previous shift.

The Fremont Tesla is part of a pilot program to determine the suitability of EVs for patrol duty. This one was bought in 2018 for $ 61,000 directly from Tesla — which has its main factory in Fremont — and a year and $ 20,000 was spent getting it ready for first police use in March 2018. The 2014 Model S 85 is rating as having a range of 265 miles on a full battery. Urban police work is ideal for an EV because of the frequent starts and stops that regenerate power. Fremont police say a typical shift involves 70-100 miles of driving. Fremont Police Captain Sean Washington told the East Bay Times in July:

Things were going well with the Tesla pilot program, which had already been involved in at least one other pursuit at that time. “So far so good,” Washington said, noting there is usually about 40 to 50 percent battery life left after a normal shift. “We are easily able to make it through an 11-hour shift with battery power to spare.”

No matter what an EV’s stated range is, running at high speed causes a huge hit on the battery.

Ford Police Interceptor Utility Hybrid SUV.

Ford is currently the leading seller of police cars, more of which are SUVs these days. The company is promoting the hybrid as the ideal police car, in particular, a Ford Explorer modified as a “Police Interceptor Utility” with a 3.3-liter V6 and a hybrid battery.

The car can run off battery power for the better part of an hour with radios and computer active; 10-15 minutes of engine-on time brings the hybrid battery back to full charge. Ford says its hybrid gets 40 percent better mileage than a gas-only vehicle and reaches 137 mph. Ford still recommends a non-hybrid V6 turbo — sorry, no V8s — for rural and highway pursuits of up to 150 mph.

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