ASPEN " Since mid-March, officers have been testing a hybrid patrol car, the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, as a way to do their part for the city of Aspen's Canary Initiative, an attempt to reduce the city's carbon footprint and minimize effects on the environment.
The new Toyota hybrid " a sport utility vehicle slighter taller and longer than current Aspen patrol cars " gets 26 miles to the gallon, according to information on www.greencar.com, a consumer magazine website.
Police officials hope the new car will meet their needs and become part of the fleet.
"Right now we're in a trial period," said Aspen officer Joe Holman on a recent test drive.
Holman hops in and starts the vehicle with a simple push of the button, saying the Toyota hybrid has plenty of zip, and so far, he said he likes it.
The car, which alternates between a V6 engine and an electric motor, runs quietly " a boon to cops on patrol sneaking through Aspen's alleys, Holman said.
And the hybrid jibes with department philosophy.
"It's part of us trying to better adapt to the Canary Initiative," Holman said, adding the experimental vehicles might cost more at first, but in the end could prove a big savings as gas prices climb.
Once known for their fleet of sporty Saabs, in recent years Aspen police have rolled in a fleet of seven Volvo patrol cars.
But the contract with Volvo is about to expire, and the department is looking for new and different options. The department also is looking into hybrid vehicles made by GMC.
"The Aspen Police Department has been investigating the possibility of implementing a hybrid fleet since 2004," said Police Chief Richard Pryor in a department press release announcing the arrival of the new vehicle.
City officials gave Pryor the go-ahead to buy just one hybrid vehicle, mark it as a patrol car, equip it with all the necessities (including on-board computer, radar and camera) and see how it works.
Officers will monitor the vehicle's performance in the line of duty as well as the vehicle's fuel efficiency in the coming months.
The main stumbling block to using a hybrid: battery power and whether the hybrid's battery can keep up with the electrical requirements of a computer, camera, radio and radar gun.
"If we can get the battery stuff worked out, I think it's going to be a good car for us," Holman said. "We're trying to see if this is going to fit what we need."
Police in Lindsay, Calif., purchased a whole fleet of hybrid Highlanders and reported a few snags in outfitting the vehicles, including interference with speed radar from the vehicle's batteries as well as problems powering up police equipment in the car.
Only a select few officers are rolling in the hybrid and will give their report on its performance in coming months, Holman said.
"It's a neat idea and something totally new and different for us," Holman said, but he stressed that reliability is most important.
"Am I going to have to jump my car every time I get in it?" Holman asked, and also said there are no snow tires available for the specialty wheels on the hybrid car.
The experimental Toyota is the only Aspen police vehicle equipped with on-board computer, an advance officers hope to have in all future vehicles, whether hybrid or not, Holman said.
But, after just a short time riding in the hybrid, Holman is even thinking of getting one himself.