Spokane Police unhappy with Tesla cruisers, now ordering other electric vehicles

SPOKANE, Wash. – You might’ve seen some Spokane Police Teslas driving around. They’re part of a pilot the department tested to move police cars to electric vehicles.

SPD rolled out the Model Y Tesla earlier this year. The department had them since March of 2021, but they needed to be upgraded to police vehicles with lights, sirens, metal bars and more.

Patrol officers tried out the Tesla cruisers for three months before transferring them over to the domestic violence unit, which two detectives volunteered to drive.

“They’re not having to sit in them for ten hours a day. They’re doing detective work so a lot of administrative, a lot of follow-ups,” said Maj. Mike McNab with SPD. “They use the car to get to and from interviews, that sort of thing. It’s a single-user vehicle, so a lot less demand on the battery.”

The city is trying to move police cars from gas-powered to electric, as Governor Jay Inslee signed a law in 2015 making it so local and state agencies need to move to electric vehicles where practicable.

One issue McNab said is that it takes time for them to charge, which sometimes, officers don’t have that.

“We were testing them at the most demanding level of our patrol units, which is two shifts per day with a rest period of three hours in between. The batteries couldn’t keep up with that demand, especially with the charging infrastructure we have available right now,” McNab said.

McNab said some officers work 10 plus hours, and if they need to go out to another scene for overtime, there may not be enough time to charge their cars.

“That’s just not a safe situation. Law enforcement is a high-stakes environment. We need to be reliable and not have to worry about whether or not our cars are going to work,” he said.

Another issue patrol officers ran into: space. It’s difficult for two officers to sit in the front seats. McNab said the middle console had to be taken out, as it didn’t comfortably fit an officer with all their gear on for long periods of time.

While Spokane Police isn’t a fan of the Teslas, they do want to get a different electric or hybrid car.

City Council just approved $2.3 million from American Rescue Plan money for SPD to buy 35 new cruisers. This includes up to 25 Ford K8 Police Interceptor hybrid models the department wants, five for Mach-E models, three Ford F-150 lightning models and two Chevrolet diesel trucks.

Originally, SPD asked city council for 64 new cruisers this year to replace their old fleet, however, city council was only able to do a little more than half.

McNab says the eight fully electric cars they buy will first be for administration use instead of police vehicles. They want to test them out before putting all the police add-ons.

SPD says it’s not against electric vehicles, but wants more information on them working out as police cruisers.

“We’re going to start it off slow and not investing a whole lot of money into commissioning the vehicle right off the bat and see how they do with charging, see how the batteries perform, see what the comfort level is like,” McNab said. “The feedback we’re going to get before we start investing more money into them.”

McNab says commissioning an electric car into a police vehicle costs about double the price it would for a police-made vehicle. It costs about $30,000 to put the police add-ons for an electric car like the Tesla. For cars like the Ford K-8 Police Interceptor vehicles, they’re already outfitted for law enforcement.

While it costs more to buy an electric vehicle at first, City Council President Breean Beggs says it will pay off in the end.

“The good thing about it is it is cheaper in the long run for us. These electric vehicles are reported to last twice as long,” Beggs said. “Any time you buy an electric vehicle, it’s like you’re buying two vehicles for one.”

According to AAA, electricity to drive a compact electric car for 15,000 miles costs on average $546. Compare that to a gas car with the same distance, AAA says it costs more than $1,200 more.

While both Beggs and McNab says there isn’t enough infrastructure for many electric vehicles, Beggs said they’re working on it and have grants to do that.

SPD has already ordered eight of the electric vehicles. McNab says it could take a year or two before they get some of these electric or hybrid cars in, which is concerning as he says they’re in need of newer vehicles soon.

“It’s going to be a lot of wishful thinking [the vehicles] we have now, that are pretty old, are going to last and stay on the road,” McNab said. “There’s another concern with them costing the taxpayers more money in maintenance because they’re getting old and starting to fall apart. Right now, we just have wishful thinking this will hold us together until the new cars come in.”