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Published on September 29th, 2019 | by Steve Hanley

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Fremont Police Department Pushes Back About Tesla Low Battery FUD


September 29th, 2019 by  


It has been all over the news. Recently, a Tesla Model S used as a patrol car by the Fremont, California, police department ran low on battery power while engaged in a high-speed pursuit. In the abstract, it’s the perfect anti-electric car meme. “See? We told ya. Those newfangled electric cars just aren’t as good as old-fashioned gasoline-powered cars. Range anxiety gonna getcha. Stay away from EVs if you know what’s good for ya.”

Here is a sampling of the blaring news headlines:

  • “California Police Officer Forced to End 120 mph Chase After Tesla Patrol Car Battery Runs Low” — TIME
  • “Tesla police car nearly runs out of power during chase in California” — NBC News
  • “A Tesla police vehicle ran out of power during a car chase in California” — ABC News
  • “Fremont Police Tesla Near-Dead Battery Forces Officer Off Pursuit” — CBS News San Francisco

During the pursuit, other units from the Fremont police department joined the chase. Once the fleeing vehicle got onto the highway, the California Highway Patrol also got involved. Then came this radio transmission from the officer driving the Tesla: “I’m down to 6 miles of battery. I may lose it here in a sec. If someone else is able, can they maneuver into the number one spot?”

The news media routinely follow police and fire radio chatter. Some alert scribe noted that portion of the police chatter and wrote a story about it. The story got picked up and passed on. And on and on. The phone at Fremont police headquarters started ringing off the hook. Eventually, Fremont PD got tired of all the hoopla and issued the following statement, which loosely translated says, “Can everyone please calm down?”

“Our Department has unfortunately been in the news this week for an incident involving our electric police patrol vehicle (Tesla Model S). We first deployed the Tesla in March of this year as a fully outfitted patrol vehicle. Over the first six months, the performance feedback and initial data collection has been very positive and we are in early discussions of expanding the program. During a pursuit last Friday night, the battery charge began to run low, and we’d like the opportunity to clarify and provide additional context with regard to what occurred.

“On Friday afternoon, a patrol officer checked out our Tesla patrol vehicle at the start of his shift and noticed the battery was half-charged. A typical battery at full charge ranges from 220–240 miles and during an 11 hour patrol shift, Fremont patrol officers drive approximately 70–90 miles. While not policy, we recommend officers begin their shift with at least a half tank of gas or in this case, a battery charge of 50%. On this date, our officer driving the Tesla noted approximately 50% of battery life when he began his shift. While the vehicle is routinely charged between shifts, on Friday the vehicle had just been returned from our Corporation Yard. The vehicle is regularly returning at the end of every shift with 40–60%, if not more, of the battery charge remaining.

“Nine hours into the officer’s shift, at 11:05 p.m., he became involved in a vehicle pursuit that lasted a total of 8 minutes. The pursuit began in our Irvington District and traveled on Washington Blvd., before merging southbound onto I 680 towards San Jose. Within minutes, two additional Fremont patrol units were behind the Tesla and in the pursuit. Additionally, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was notified and responding. As standard protocol, once CHP has sufficient units, they take over our pursuits on the freeway.

“The pursuit spanned approximately 10 miles and at times exceeded 110 mph. Regular updates regarding the speed, location, general traffic and roadway conditions were provided by the second officer in the pursuit. Just before the pursuit ended at 11:13 p.m., the officer driving the Tesla responsibly notified his cover units he was going to have to back out of the pursuit because his battery was running low. Just after they passed the Montague Expressway exit, the suspect drove on the left shoulder of the road to pass a vehicle. At that time, the Fremont Police Sergeant monitoring the pursuit gave orders to terminate to ensure public safety. All three units deactivated their emergency equipment and returned to normal driving conditions. At that point, the Tesla was driven to a nearby charging station and the additional Fremont units returned to the City. CHP located the unoccupied vehicle in the area of I 680 and the Berryessa exit. At no time did the battery of the Tesla become a factor in our ability to pursue the suspect or perform our duties. This situation, while embarrassing, is no different from cases where a patrol car runs low (or even dry) of fuel.

“In recent years police radio traffic has become readily accessible through phone applications and its common practice for news media and even community members to monitor and even record. On Monday, a local journalist contacted our Department requesting additional details regarding the pursuit. The journalist subsequently wrote an article and released a portion of our radio traffic. Since that time, the Department has received numerous media inquiries regarding the vehicle’s battery. Unfortunately, public interest in the original story propelled it into the national spotlight.

“Over the last six months, data on range, performance, equipment, and other elements has been gathered by officers through its use as a patrol vehicle. During this time we have documented two police pursuits, where the vehicle met and exceeded expectations. Our final results and data will ultimately help us determine if the EV technology meets current patrolling applications and cost effectiveness. We remain dedicated to our continued research into the benefits of using electric vehicles and the effects they have on our environment. We hope to share our initial data and feedback soon.

“Captain Sean Washington stated, ‘So far, the vehicle is performing extremely well, and has exceeded our expectations. We are already in initial conversations about testing a second vehicle, likely an SUV model, and we look forward to providing our initial results in the near future.’

“For more information on our electric vehicle pilot program, visit www.fremontpolice.org/electricvehicle.”

To hear the journos tell it, the incident highlighted the fatal flaw in all electric cars — lack of range. The speed with which this story spread throughout the digital universe highlights the willingness of the press to trash electric cars at every opportunity. The odds are good that the explanation from the Fremont PD will receive far fewer headlines than the original FUD that started the whole thing. 
 

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.



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