EVERETT — The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is getting a Tesla.
A Tesla Model Y long range edition, to be specific, a fully electric mid-sized SUV that will cost more than $51,000, including all the equipment associated with your typical squad car.
The SUV will be on patrol by the end of the year, said sheriff’s office spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe.
It’ll be a grand experiment to see how an electric vehicle stands up to the day-to-day rigors of patrol work — all that driving around and idling, and sometimes pursuits.
Throughout the pilot test, the sheriff’s office will track the repair and maintenance costs, and the vehicle’s performance and abilities.
“It may very well fail, be a marginal success, or completely succeed,” O’Keefe wrote in an email to The Daily Herald. “We just don’t know yet.”
With the higher cost, the sheriff’s office doesn’t expect the Tesla to pay for itself. But it will see significant savings in gas, fewer repairs, less brake service and longer-lasting tires, O’Keefe noted.
The Tesla is the result of a challenge issued by the Snohomish County Council during budget discussions last year.
“When it comes to our deputies, there’s a few rules with them,” Councilman Sam Low said at an Oct. 21 meeting. “You don’t want to mess with their team, you don’t want to mess with their gun, and you don’t want to mess with their vehicle.”
He remarked that deputies have had troubles with hybrid vehicles and that “hybrids just haven’t come through I think the way people have wanted or expected.”
But when it comes to the electric vehicle pilot, Low related a comment he made to Sheriff Adam Fortney:
“It doesn’t hurt to try.”
Low said the sheriff’s office alone used more than 340,000 gallons of fuel in 2019. Over the course of a decade, that adds up to 3.4 million gallons of fossil fuels, Low noted.
“I’m concerned, and I’d like to see us go in a different direction,” Low said at the time.
As a condition of the 2021 budget, the County Council ordered that county departments come up with a Green Fleet Implementation Plan, creating the blueprints for the eventual transition away from fossil fuels. Though it isn’t formally finished, the new Tesla is a tiny step toward making that plan a reality.
There are some questions lingering about how an electric vehicle will work for patrol.
Like, how will it handle a pursuit?
Since deputies here haven’t used an electric vehicle in a pursuit, the sheriff’s office didn’t have much to say on the matter, except that it’s one of the metrics they’ll be tracking.
In California, however, the Fremont Police Department made national headlines when their Tesla nearly ran out of power during a chase.
The police department later argued that wasn’t a fair assessment of what happened, according to The New York Times. It wasn’t a case of the bad guy got away. Rather, the pursuit was terminated for other reasons, and the suspect’s car was later found abandoned.
Besides, the police chief said, it wasn’t any different than a car running out of gas. That particular Tesla had been on patrol for nine hours and wasn’t fully charged, The New York Times reported.
The chief there said the Tesla had gotten surprisingly positive reviews from officers, calling it a “game changer” for pursuits.
On YouTube, the car information website Edmunds tested the Tesla Y Performance in a series of drag race videos. The electric car ends up beating most of the competition in rather boring fashion, including a Shelby GT500, a Porsche Taycan and a Jeep Trackhawk. Maybe unsurprisingly, it does lose against the likes of the Chevy Corvette and the Lamborghini Urus, but it keeps up better than expected. (The performance edition does boast a higher top speed and better acceleration, but the long range model is zippy, too, reviewers have said, and deputies likely won’t be chasing supercars.)
But what about when the electric vehicle is in the middle of charging and an officer needs to respond to a call? Some Facebook users snidely questioned a post by the sheriff’s office. Will the bad guys just get away?
For now, that shouldn’t be a problem — at least, not during the pilot.
“This is a single car,” O’Keefe wrote. “If we had only one car out, that would be a problem, but the placement of this car or the assignment of this car will be carefully calculated. We will not place it into a patrol position where that could occur.”
The Tesla will be moved from unit to unit. It’ll likely spend time on traffic enforcement, DUI patrol and proactive patrol. “No area beat or neighborhood will be fully dependent on an electric car,” O’Keefe noted.
Finding the right electric vehicle came with some challenges. The sheriff’s office needed an affordable price point for a vehicle that could also act as a fully functioning patrol car. It needs enough juice to power law enforcement devices like emergency lights, a computer, a printer and a police radio. And heating should be efficient so it doesn’t drain too much power when the patrol car is at an incident for an extended period of time, especially when it’s cold outside.
The vehicle also will need to be outfitted to hold prisoners and should be big enough so everyone’s comfortable. And officers need a little extra space for all their gear and supplies.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office isn’t the first police agency to get an electric vehicle. Around the nation, departments are testing the idea, though several are only using them for detective and administrative work.
In a news release, the sheriff’s office stated it looked at a range of makes: Ford, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Chevrolet, Audi, Volkswagen and Volvo.
The list was narrowed down to three models: the Tesla 3, the Tesla Y and the Ford Mach E.
In the end, the Tesla Y won out. It’ll join the ranks of Ford Explorers and Chevy Caprices that most deputies currently drive.
Whether the electric vehicle will one day become the new face of patrol — like the Crown Vics of old — only time will tell.
Reporter Rachel Riley contributed to this story.