Town discusses adding electric cars to police patrol fleet

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PITTSBORO — During Monday evening’s regular board meeting, commissioners discussed the possibility of starting to replace some of the older patrol police cars with electric vehicles, marking the beginning of possibly changing out town-owned cars for less-polluting automobiles.

While the board did not vote on the matter, commissioners and town staff expressed excitement for the idea of cleaner options for town cars.

“I think this is a really unique and somewhat fun thing to talk about,” Town Manager Chris Kennedy said. “We love the idea of emerging technologies, I desire for us to be as innovative as possible, and I think there is a lot of opportunity in electric vehicles for us to press forward.”

Kennedy, who helped lead the research into electric vehicle replacements, said this is a part of the town’s plan to utilize more energy sources with lower environmental impact.

“Certainly, it is our desire over here at the town to be as efficient as we can in all aspects of our operation,” Kennedy said. “I think this conversation will eventually morph into the full town operation, but the original scope is to look at our police vehicles.”

Kennedy, Pittsboro Police Chief Shorty Johnson and Deputy Chief Troy Roberson researched two models of electric vehicles: the Tesla Model Y and the Ford Mustang Mach-E model. The Tesla would cost the town just over $80,000 to purchase and customize for police use, while the Mustang would cost the town $76,438 to purchase and customize.

“Certainly, there are a lot of factors to consider,” Kennedy said, “so what we’ve done is tried to narrow it down, try to normalize these conversations the best we could, and show the board the findings we have thus far.”

He also said the town can look at hybrid power cars, which depend on both gasoline and battery power to operate. In fact, the police department already has multiple hybrid vehicles active in its fleet.

“Back in 2020, after I got here, we were scoping out and we had three budgeted for the police department, and for the first time, we went forward with hybrids,” Kennedy said. “We’ve found really good success with those so far and are really pleased with what we have found.”

A lot of municipalities around the United States have started to replace their gas-powered vehicles with electric cars, specifically the Model Y Tesla. Kennedy said the town of Cary has two of these vehicles as a part of their fleet, and the number of towns and cities shifting towards Tesla keeps increasing.

However, there are multiple factors the board needs to consider before moving forward with shifting towards electric-only vehicles. The availability of charging stations for the police officers who would be receiving the cars would need to be better, according to Kennedy.

“Is it charged at home, is it charged at the office?” Kennedy asked the board. “We know that this conversation will again morph into a much more expansive discussion, and we welcome that.”

Commissioner Jay Farrell expressed concern for the officers in the newer electric vehicles. He said he wants to make sure the board not only looks at the cost of these cars, but he wants commissioners to also take into account the safety of electric versus traditional gas-powered engines.

“We want to look at these vehicles and make sure the chief and his officers are safe in the vehicle,” he said. “I just want to make sure we are not weighing cost over safety for our officers.”

Commissioner John Bonitz addressed Farrell’s concerns, citing the better safety and crash ratings among electric vehicles, focusing on Tesla.

According to Tesla’s website, drivers who drove without autopilot or safety features had one accident for every 978 thousand miles driven. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, data shows the average rate of a car crash is one every 484,000 miles.

“The departments that I am hearing who have decided to purchase the Teslas have found that the safety ratings and the crash ratings are significantly superior,” Bonitz said.

Commissioner Kyle Shipp has first-hand experience with electric automobiles, as his car is an electric Chevrolet. He said a lot has changed regarding infrastructure for electric cars since he first purchased his own in 2017, especially with public charging stations.

“(There have been) lots of improvements on that side,” Shipp said. “There’s just so many electric vehicles now, and I think there are some vehicles in town we have that probably should be replaced, and will probably be replaced with only electric vehicles as a lot of manufacturers are switching to that.”

Kennedy’s recommendation for the board is to continue with the purchasing of hybrid vehicles for the time being, as they provide a clean source of energy and are a more cost-effective option.

However, Kennedy said he is expecting the town to have to replace a vehicle every year for the foreseeable future, meaning there may come a time when the town shifts away from hybrid vehicles to an electric option.

“Between replacing our existing fleet, ultimately as we grow we will be adding officers and adding vehicles with those new officers, I think this conversation is going to be recurring,” he said. “From a policing perspective, I don’t think we are quite there, but we will target ourselves to be nimble enough so that if an opportunity presents itself and we feel like we want to shift, we trust this board will support us in shifting towards that.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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