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Police Fleet Tips: Hybrid Tips From the Experts

Police departments that use mid-size hybrids for patrol have some advice for other departments. At the 2009 Police Fleet Expo in Milwaukee, Joe Stehlik of the Middlefield, Ohio, Police; Dan Augustin of the Bloomington, Ill., Police; and Bob Martinez of the New York Police Department had some advice for departments considering the use of hybrid vehicles.

Do your homework. Know the difference between a “mild” hybrid that does not electrically propel the vehicle and a “full” hybrid that does. Expect to be pressured from elected officials to “go green,” even with lower fuel prices. Plan ahead. Expect to pay $3,500 for the hybrid feature, and do not expect to have that paid back with lower fuel use during the three-year (average) service life of a police vehicle.

Heads-up on the vehicle size and roominess: Without exception, hybrid vehicles are smaller in passenger space and, due to the battery pack, much smaller in cargo space. Expect this.

These retail hybrid vehicles will not have heavy-duty seats or rear vinyl seats and will all have retail-oriented center consoles with floor-mounted gear selectors. One agency spent $1,000 per vehicle changing seats when the retail seats were quickly worn out by duty belts and gun butts.

Determine ahead of time when to use the hybrid vehicle. Some uses, like code enforcement, are perfect. Most patrol uses are not appropriate. Particularly good applications are for code and parking enforcement and supervisor use. Patrol calls for service are not nearly as suitable for two reasons: first, because of the smaller size of all hybrid vehicles, and second, because hybrid vehicles are best used in situations of constant stop-and-start driving.

The hybrids will not have heavy-duty, police-oriented alternators and cranking batteries. Use LED emergency lights, of course. However, also use LED lights for wig-wags, instead of the halogen headlights. Contrary to expectations, hybrid vehicles are no big deal to upfit. Use the 12-volt system. Don’t use the 36-volt, 275-volt or 330-volt systems. Stay away from heavy gauge orange wires and cables.

Develop a special hybrid safety protocol for your maintenance techs. This should include high voltage danger training and spotter or buddy system protocols. It should also include high voltage Personal Protective Equipment, like rubber or insulated gloves. The hybrid’s high voltage is serious.

Contrary to some concerns, the hybrid’s complexity has not increased maintenance costs. In fact, because all hybrids use regenerative braking, the front brake pad life may greatly improve. Instead of changing front pads at 6K-8K miles, one agency is changing the front brakes on its hybrid sedans at 12K-15K miles in the same citywide patrol use. And most hybrid drivetrains are covered by a 100K-mile warranty.

Finally, hybrid vehicles are not pursuit-rated and have none of the heavy-duty police components. From a liability viewpoint, the department and police union must buy into the fact that these are not “police” vehicles.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, May/Jun 2010

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