Utah cops are moving to hybrids with big batteries and the ability to reach 137 mph

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake City Police Department is testing Ford Setina Hybrid, seen here Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, to use as new squad cars.

Trying to be more environmentally conscious, several police departments in Salt Lake County have traded some of their gas patrol cars for hybrids, and other departments see a switch in their futures.

Salt Lake City, the first in the state and among the first few departments in the country to make the shift, passed a $4 million budget in June to replace 110 aging patrol gas cars with new hybrid vehicles. The change is part of the city’s initiative to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040.

“The mayor is an advocate for clean air and clean energy … and we have been looking into how to transition the city,” said Matthew Rojas, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.

Salt Lake City police began buying Ford Explorer SUVs after Chevrolet decided to phase out Impala sedans, Rojas said, and the gas-electric hybrid sedans will each cost about $4,000 less than those SUVs. So the department will save money as more hybrids are bought instead. It also expects to save about $250,000 a year in the long run by cutting expenses for gas and maintenance, he said.

“There are clean air benefits, there are cost benefits,” Rojas said, “and the mayor was really excited to do this in her last year and make this big purchase.”

Salt Lake City has used hybrid vehicles for its detectives and firetrucks in the past, but the new fleet of Ford Police Responders, which the city will order in September, is designed specifically for patrol officers.

The Responders can reach speeds up to 137 mph and have bigger batteries to support the computer systems used in law enforcement cars.

To maintain the technology in patrol cars, they remain idling when an officer has parked while responding to a call, Rojas said. The new hybrids are expected to cut down on emissions released as the cars idle.

“These are some positives that they’re looking at in terms of possible fuel savings and emission savings,” said Salt Lake City Detective Michael Ruff.

Following in Salt Lake City’s footsteps, the West Valley City Council voted July 23 to purchase 11 hybrid patrol vehicles for its police and 14 hybrid vehicles for its public works, fire, community and economic development, and parks departments.

“We’re trying to shift over where it is reasonable to purchase some of the more fuel-efficient vehicles,” said West Valley City Mayor Ron Bigelow, explaining hybrids are more expensive than gas patrol cars.

The 11 hybrid patrol cars will cost $416,867 upfront, and the city will spend $458,270 for the other government vehicles.

West Valley City representatives said gas patrol cars are rotated out and sold about every five or six years, but they hope to keep the hybrids longer.

“When the cost of maintenance becomes a factor into these cars, then we’ll typically sell them and replace them,” said Sam Johnson, a spokesman for West Valley City, adding the city hopes to save money on gas and maintenance with the hybrid vehicles.

While Salt Lake and West Valley are the only two cities in Salt Lake County to vote on hybrid patrol vehicles, other cities say they hope to move in that direction.

“Those are things that we’re absolutely considering," said Tim Beery, a Cottonwood Heights spokesman, “but for our patrol guys, basically at this point, it’s not really practical right now” due to cost.

South Salt Lake also would like to move toward hybrid cars, but the upfront cost is not within the city’s current budget.

“Hybrid cars are more expensive, and to really get your money out of them, you need to keep them for the long term, which we don’t typically do,” said South Salt Lake Sgt. Matt Oehler. “Maybe when they get a little more reasonable, a little more affordable.”

Murray Police Department manager Kristin Reardon said the Murray police chief drives a hybrid police vehicle, and the city would like the rest of the department to switch over in the future. “We’ve discussed using hybrid and other electric cars and things like that,” Reardon said.

The Herriman and Riverton police departments, created earlier this year, inherited gas patrol vehicles from the Unified Police Department, but in the future hope to buy hybrids. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this is something we did down the road,” said Casey Saxton, Riverton spokesman.