Police Departments Are Trying Out EVs to Save Money—Is It Working?

The electric prowlers promise savings in fuel and maintenance.

The Westport car in full police livery.
The Westport car in full police livery.

Bruce Becker

Electric vehicles make good taxis. Amsterdam has Tesla Model S cars on livery duty and Oslo (with high EV density) is putting the Jaguar I-PACE through its hailing paces. Even New York City welcomed its first Tesla Model 3 taxi last year, with the Taxi and Limousine Commission proposing a one-year pilot program to increase the authorization for electric taxis. But electric police cars? That’s happening too. 

Bargersville, Indiana, population 8,000, has a Tesla Model 3, running alongside Dodge Chargers and Durangos. The reason is pretty simple: Tesla saves money on fuel and maintenance, and the police chief thinks it could pay for itself in two years.

Hastings-on-Hudson, in New York’s Westchester County, has a Model Y cop car for its detective division—the first in the nation. "We're trying to go green with our fleet," said Chief David Dosin to News 12 Westchester. The decision faced backlash but the Hastings Police Department estimates the move will deliver $8,500 in fuel savings over the course of five years.

BMW supplied the city of Los Angeles with 100 i3 electric police cars back in 2016, part of the city’s Sustainable City plan to make half of its light-duty vehicle purchases fully electric. The Hyundai Kona Electric is the most popular EV cop car in Europe

And then there’s Westport, Connecticut, an affluent former artists’ colony that turned into a home for the man in the grey flannel suit—Manhattan is an hour away. Westport bought its Tesla Model 3 in 2019 for $52,290, versus the $37,000 it would have paid for a Ford Explorer, its usual fare. Tack onto that Tesla $1,000 for a charger and $800 for a spare tire. 

“What initially attracted us to the Tesla was how it compared to our traditional fleet vehicles in terms of performance, five-star crash ratings, and collision-avoidance technology,” Police Chief Foti Koskinsas said. “We’d been using plug-in hybrids for parking enforcement for several years, but this was our first active-duty fully electric car.”

According to this chart, Westport’s Tesla police car was miserly on operating expenses.
According to this chart, Westport’s Tesla police car was miserly on operating expenses.

Barry Kresch

Upfront, the Ford was much cheaper. But with customization, things got more interesting. By using the technology embedded in the Tesla, the Westport PD was able to pay only $8,000 for its license plate reader, versus $18,000 in the Ford. There were other discounts, too. The total Tesla customization package was $14,300, versus $38,875 for the Ford. 

Operating costs were a no-brainer. Gasoline to run an Explorer in 2020 similar miles would have been $5,281, but it was only $2,135 to maintain and supply the Tesla with volts. The police have been able to run two shifts on a single charge. Total fuel and maintenance for a Ford was $10,406. Stretch the numbers out for four years, and the operating expenses are $12,787 (Tesla) and $44,301 (Ford). The department also thinks it can get six years out of the Tesla, compared to four for Ford. 

Another savings was on braking: The Ford needs servicing twice a year, but the Tesla only once every second year. The use of regenerative braking—using the engine to slow down—is one reason for that. The tires are also wearing more slowly, and the Tesla doesn’t need oil changes, spark-plug replacement, or other typical maintenance items. 

“This Tesla pays for itself in the first year,” Barry Kresch, a Westporter and president of the Electric Vehicle Club of Connecticut, tellsTreehugger. “After four years, the savings will be big enough to buy another Tesla. The bottom line is that this is great for the police department’s bottom line.”