The Los Angeles Police Department recently acquired two electric vehicles for its enforcement fleet: a BMW i3 and a Tesla Model S. The i3 will handle light duty like traffic enforcement and neighborhood patrols, but the Tesla has been painted as the ultimate destroyer of police pursuits; vehicle pursuits are one of the LAPD’s greatest challenges, but the Tesla Model S won’t eliminate car chases. In fact, it really shouldn’t even be involved.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The Model S is a fantastic car by just about all accounts -- the P85D version recently broke Consumer Reports’ grading scale -- but it doesn’t belong as a police pursuit vehicle. Just because the Model S is faster than most things on the road, that doesn’t make it fit for police pursuits.
First and foremost, the Tesla Model S is a luxury car. This is by no means a cheap vehicle, even at its cheapest civilian price ($70,000). Add to that all of the specialized equipment and systems a police cruiser requires, and you’ve got a very, very expensive tool, with equally pricey repair costs; by way of comparison, a fully loaded Dodge Charger Police Package when new typically cost about $45,000 a few years ago.
The quickest Tesla Model S, the one that would “end all pursuits,” starts north of $100,000 and that’s without any police equipment. Will the LAPD really want to put such a prominent vehicle in harm’s way, knowing the enormous repair cost? It would become a PR nightmare, once the local press discovers the costs (which would be paid with public funds, after all).
— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) September 11, 2015
Yes, the Model S is extremely fast. In P85D and P90D guise, it’ll rocket to 60 mph in under three seconds, and it would continue to outpace and outrun most conventional vehicles well into triple-digit speeds. But should a criminal pursuit become a high-speed battle of attrition, the Model S would lose some of its quick-acceleration advantage. Prolonged acceleration heats the battery systems of the Model S, and the car automatically reduces power. Unlike the traditional highway patrol cars, the Model S can’t be fast for the entire pursuit.
Not that it will be allowed to reach those speeds very often. Extremely high speed pursuits are already spearheaded by law enforcement helicopters, to give fast-moving suspects breathing room for an inevitable mistake. Never mind that there’s not much out there that can outrun a basic LAPD helicopter (the Eurocopter AS350B2, with a top speed of 178 mph).
Typical high-speed freeway chases usually end with a cavalcade of LAPD Ford Crown Victorias or Dodge Chargers following the suspect from a distance. Through the streets, pursuing officers often have to get aggressive, charging over medians and physically pushing suspects into submission. The Tesla Model S is a fantastic car, but it’s just not built to withstand the kind of abuse that police vehicles typically see.
Old Ford Crown Victorias, new Ford Tauruses, Dodge Chargers, Chevrolet Impalas and Caprices were built specifically to handle these law enforcement duties, en masse and (comparably) inexpensively. When one is broken, it’s not a particularly complicated matter to fix it or replace it, but despite Tesla’s popularity surge, they’re rare and expensive vehicles.
It’s good that the LAPD has added a couple of EVs to its fleet, but this doesn’t spell the end for police pursuits. Not yet.
Horses aren't great police pursuit vehicles either, but the NYPD keeps mounted units for visibility and public relations. So think of the LAPD's Model S as the Los Angeles equivalent: a community relations tool or statement about a more efficient car-based society and nothing more.
[UPDATE] Steve Soboroff, the Vice President of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, told International Business Times that the Tesla Model S shown in LAPD livery is on loan, for exhibits and events. Don't expect to be chased down by a Tesla in Los Angeles anytime soon.