ACT police want safeguards before electric vehicle shift

Police in the UK have conducted successful trials of Tesla Model 3s in operational service. Picture: Electrek
Police in the UK have conducted successful trials of Tesla Model 3s in operational service. Picture: Electrek

Electric police cars are firmly on the ACT's agenda, although the local police force is playing a cautious game until in-field testing provides the assurance of sufficient operational range to respond to emergency situations.

ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said "at least" a 400 kilometre range between recharges - and having a very fast recharge capability at all police stations - was the minimum standard he would view as acceptable for an operational vehicle, given police have quite different requirements to privately-owned and government fleet vehicles.

Both Victorian and NSW police have evaluated electric vehicles, with a Hyundai Kona EV currently on fleet with NSW Police, based in western Sydney.

Police are notoriously conservative in their approach to operational vehicle leasing, aware that incorrect fleet choices could have potentially life-threatening implications. Among other first-responders, the ACT Fire and Rescue has one custom-built electric fire truck, built by Rosenbauer in Germany, arriving next year.

The ACT government is firmly committed to electrifying all its fleet vehicles to provide a lead for the public to follow, with the Greens setting a policy target of 90 per cent of new vehicle sales in the ACT to be zero emission by 2030.

Tesla Model 3 police car. Picture: Electrek

Tesla Model 3 police car. Picture: Electrek

However, ACT Policing is a contracted service to the government from the Australian Federal Police. It is not required to follow ACT fleet vehicle directives but does view a future switch to electric vehicles as an obligation.

A Tesla Model 3 - but not the latest, longer-range version - was part of the round of vehicle testing conducted early last year before ACT Policing settled on purchasing BMW X3 SUVs as the replacements for its new traffic cars.

Police cars in Canberra do not rack up the high mileages of other jurisdictions and are generally leased for three to four years, with the leases extended when needed.

The road policing fleet, the ACT's equivalent of the NSW Highway Patrol, have retained four of its much-treasured V8 models in service, including one of the last police-specification Commodores to roll off the Broadmeadows assembly line in South Australia before Holden shut down local production in late 2017.

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The quick, roomy and robust Commodore V8 sedans are regarded by officers in the field as the best "fit-for-purpose" machines. But these Australian-made high-speed pursuit cars are certain to be retired in the next 12 months, with one already earmarked for the Australian Federal Police museum in Hume.

The added complexity of the police going electric with its operational fleet is every vehicle requires a suite of complicated electronics to be installed to run emergency lights and sirens, speed monitoring and on-board data collection and digital communications.

The ACT's V8 Commodores have been worthy servants in traffic operations, but most are due to be retired next year. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

The ACT's V8 Commodores have been worthy servants in traffic operations, but most are due to be retired next year. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

The road policing vehicles also carry additional equipment such as road spikes, traffic cones, and automated number plate recognition (ANPR) systems.

However, police in the UK have already conducted extensive trials of Tesla Model 3s built for its fleet and found the latest models achieved expectations.

A Tesla representative in the UK recently reported on UK website Electrek its cars could achieve a 320km range under "blue light advance driving" conditions, with the longest run of four hours "on active deployment under advanced driving conditions".

It also reported "The auxiliary systems have minimal impact on range; ANPR for three hours would take less than a few miles of range off the car. [The] LED [emergency] lights could run for days off the battery pack".

"Public response to seeing our active units has been mind-blowing, the press articles have been positive as well. As an engagement tool, we're seeing incredible results," it reported.

"Brake wear has been minimal. After 10,000 miles [16,000km] of driving, the first set of [brake] pads still had 15-20 per cent use still in them.

"After 15,000 miles [24,000km] the only maintenance has been brakes and tyres. No annual service schedules mean minimal running costs, time off the road and competitive total cost of ownership.

"Tesla software updates and systems offer new ways to police, the ability to send directions to the car via systems such as the what3words app and Google maps will allow control rooms to send direct directions to a job."

Tesla's use of a proprietary fast-charging system is a hurdle for fleet operators because it adds cost should the fleet be diversified to include other brands.

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This story ACT police want safeguards before electric vehicle shift first appeared on The Canberra Times.