First electric police car in W.Va. begins patrols

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 3:57 PM EDT
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NITRO, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The Nitro Police Department is making history with the first electric police car in West Virginia, hitting the streets to patrol the city this week.

The custom Tesla Model 3 is part of a trial to see if electric cars can save the department money and improve service, Chief Chris Fleming said. This Tesla cost $42,000 with its custom lights and radios, which is around $5,000 more than a normal Ford police cruiser the department uses, but it should save at least $4,000 per year in fuel and other maintenance.

“We believe that because of fuel savings, maintenance costs, and resale value, this car will be cost neutral to the citizens of Nitro,” Mayor Dave Casebolt said. “Only time will tell on that, but we’ve done a lot of research on this.”

Casebolt said the Tesla is just a single-vehicle trial for now, but they are planning to buy more electric vehicles if it proves to be successful. He said they are also hoping the futuristic cars help the department attract new officers.

Nitro Police will spend the next six months testing out the Tesla and comparing it to the gas and hybrid vehicles that other officers with the department currently drive, Fleming said. He understands that the electric car will have its weaknesses, but he expects them to be similar to the Ford cruisers they already use.

“It’s got a lot of cool technology in it that both keeps us safe and helps us effectively take care of the public,” Patrolman Matthew Haynes said. He will be driving the Tesla and expects to do a lot of experimenting in the coming weeks to figure out how to best use it. There has been a learning curve, but Haynes said the electric car has not had any issues their normal gas-powered vehicles deal with every day.

One of the biggest concerns is how long it takes to fully charge the car’s battery compared to just filling up at a gas station. Haynes said the Tesla has a similar battery range to how far a tank of gas can get someone, but it can take up to eight hours to recharge the battery at a station that was installed at the police department.

“Right now, we are trying to keep it at least above 50 percent charge,” Haynes said. “Whenever I am coming back to the office to complete a report or do any sort of paperwork on an investigation, I try to keep it plugged in and keep it charged up.”

“There are going to be other cars out,” Fleming said about the car’s battery possibly needing charged while responding to a major event. “If there is a problem with the charge or something like that, we do have a spare vehicle that we could transition over to if something like that would happen, but I don’t see that happening. It’s not very likely.”

So far, Haynes has found that the Tesla has very good acceleration and a top speed similar to other police cruisers. He has also been impressed by how little road noise it makes.

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