The laptop, radio and video camera mounted in each police car are guzzling down gallons of gas, dragging the mileage of the city’s Crown Victorias to 8 miles per gallon, officials said Tuesday.
Civilians can get 15 mpg out of a Crown Victoria in city driving, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But police officers leave their engines running 24 hours a day to power all their electronic devices, idling through gallons of gas on every shift. The practice cost the city pennies when gasoline was cheap, but now that fuel is above $4 per gallon, the city could save $3,000 a year by replacing one Crown Vic with a car that gets 12 mpg.
The city’s Energy Advisory Board recommended just that on Monday in a report that highlighted the cost of inefficient vehicles in the city’s fleet.
The report implied that most of the 200 vehicles in the fleet that get less than 10 mpg were police cars; there are in fact only 20 such cars in the fleet. The city could save $60,000 in gasoline costs each year if it replaced them all with 12-mpg vehicles as recommended in the report.
Despite the potential savings, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett on Tuesday strongly disagreed with the Energy Advisory Board’s recommendation. He said nothing can be done to reduce idling or replace the police cars with a more efficient vehicle.
“There is none,” he said. “[Energy Advisory Board Chair] Dana Swalla has points that are well taken. But if you look at if from a law-enforcement point of view, there’s other considerations that we need to examine.”
The Crown Victoria is one of three police cars built in the United States, he said. The other two are the Dodge Charger — which gets the same gas mileage as the Crown Vic — and the Chevrolet Impala, which uses 17 percent less gas, according to the EPA.
The city uses three Impalas, all in the traffic division, but Bennett said they’re too small to use for patrol, where some officers drive with a partner. Either two officers can fit in the front of an Impala, or one officer can drive while a laptop and radio system take up most of the passenger’s space.
“And the maintenance costs are higher on them, particularly transmissions and brakes,” Bennett said.
He said the Crown Victorias are safer than the Impalas as well, because they have a full steel frame to protect officers from side impacts.
That steel frame held firm last week when an SUV smashed into one of the police cars at more than 70 mph. Officer John Favata was able to crawl out a side window as his car burst into flames. Bennett said a more fuel-efficient car might have been crushed in the accident, killing Favata.
“You tell me we should put an officer in a car that might be more fuel-efficient but might not be able to take the full crash that car did?” Bennett said. “I think an officer’s life will cost more than the gas.”
He also questioned whether the Crown Victorias really get just 8 mpg when police drive them. But Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said he was confident that his figures were correct. He has been tracking the mileage of every car that fuels up at the city’s fueling station.
Bennett did acknowledge that the cars don’t get great gas mileage.
“From strictly an environmental point of view, there’s very little argument that this is not the best thing for the environment,” he said.
If it’s not possible to replace the cars with more efficient models, the police could improve mileage by turning off their engines when they’re not driving. But Bennett said that, too, can’t be done.
Every day, the police need to jumpstart at least one of the cars in the department’s parking lot because their batteries run down so quickly. On the city streets, they don’t dare turn off the engine, Bennett said.
The battery would quickly die under the demand from the radio, laptop, video camera, microphone, emergency lights and siren, he explained.
“These cars have so much demand for the electrical parts of the vehicle. Frankly I’d be very concerned about shutting them off,” he said. “We experience that quite a bit, to the point that we have a battery charger for cars that die in the parking lot.”
Each device could run off its own batteries, but Bennett said it would be too difficult to track batteries, charge them and distribute them whenever the devices die.
“It gets penny-wise and pound-foolish,” he said. “They’re not meant to run off their own little batteries.”
Swalla said she will meet with Bennett to discuss his concerns in hopes of coming to a solution.
“There’s only 20 Crown Victorias but they average 16,000 miles per car [per year]. That’s a lot of miles on cars that get 8 mpg,” she said. “That’s why I focused on police cars. You’re probably not going to get a more efficient firetruck or garbage truck.”