Aspen police go it alone in hybrids |

Aspen police go it alone in hybrids

Steve Lynn
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

EAGLE COUNTY ” The Aspen Police Department is patrolling the streets in hybrid vehicles, but law-enforcement agencies in Eagle County, including Vail police, don’t plan to follow suit anytime soon.

Aspen police announced in May it would acquire a fleet of 10 hybrid Toyota Highlanders ” the first agency in Colorado to do so, city officials said. The decision came as gasoline in Aspen reached $4.80 per gallon; the city was paying about $3.57 per gallon.

Oil prices are soaring and carbon dioxide emissions warm the Earth, say the experts, but in Eagle County, police say they aren’t interested in the Toyota Highlander because the mid-size sport utility vehicle doesn’t have enough room inside, among other drawbacks.

Eagle County agencies have considered hybrids, which run on a combination of electricity and gasoline, but so far, they’re unproven for police work, are not manufactured to police standards and don’t get good enough gas mileage on the highway, some say.

Gusty Kanakis, fleet manager for Eagle County, attended a car show for a hybrid Dodge Durango last week. But like other hybrids, the sport utility vehicle doesn’t run as efficiently on highways ” where Eagle County sheriff’s deputies record most of their miles ” as it does in town, Kanakis said.

The hybrid Durango actually gets fewer miles per gallon on the highway than deputies’ Chevrolet Tahoes get, Kanakis said.

“It’s not worth it,” he said.

Deputies get an average of 18 miles per gallon on their 2007 Dodge Chargers and about 20 mpg in their 2007 Tahoes, Kanakis said.

The county, exempt from gas tax, pays $3.50 to $3.60 per gallon, enough to keep Kanakis looking for a more efficient vehicle.

“We’re looking at anything we can,” said Kanakis, who’s confident more fuel-efficient vehicles are on their way.

“Every year I think you’re going to see an improvement,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office uses Tahoes that save fuel by using only four cylinders when traveling at a constant speed on the highway instead of all eight while driving in town.

The Sheriff’s Office also has a hybrid Toyota Prius that its employees use for activities other than patrolling, Kanakis said. The county has 20 Priuses total.

Aspen’s 2008 Highlanders cost $35,392 each ” roughly $4,000 more than it paid for the Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicles it bought in 2005, according to Aspen city officials.

The Vail Police Department will replace half its fleet of Ford Explorers with the same model Volvo, which should be patrolling Vail streets by August, Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said.

The town considered Chevy Tahoe hybrids, but those were too expensive and haven’t yet been shown to be good police cars, Henninger said. The Highlander doesn’t have enough room for police equipment, such as cones, radios, cameras, first-aid kits, flares and other items ” and suspects.

Henninger, like other police, doesn’t want to use a first-year model that could have problems. He also does not know of any tests that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office and Michigan State Police ” two trusted agencies that test vehicles for police work ” have done on hybrid vehicles, he said.

“We’ll have to re-evaluate that next time we’re getting ready to purchases cars,” he added.

Chief Brian Kozak of the Avon Police Department said the department has looked into using a Chevy Tahoe hybrid. But they were not offered with required components such as a beefed-up suspension package and emergency lights, he said.

The department also wants four-wheel-drive vehicles, not an all-wheel-drive vehicle such as the Highlander, he said.

In the future, Kozak likely will consider vehicles that use fewer cylinders once they reach cruising speeds on the interstate, to get better gas mileage, he said.

As for hybrids, “It’s something definitely we’re going to keep an eye on as these vehicles are developed in the future,” he said.

A Ford Escape hybrid has been purchased for a “police service officer” ” a position the department is looking to fill, he said. That employee will work in crime prevention and to enforce wildlife protection, parking and leash laws, but the officer does not need a traditional police vehicle designed for pursuits, he said.

Priority is safety

“Hybrid” is a buzzword, but more important is whether a vehicle runs efficiently, said Matt Scherr, executive director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. There are, after all, some conventional vehicles that get better mileage than hybrids, he said.

Environmentalists prefer vehicles that harm Earth the least, but a police officer’s vehicle must function to keep the public safe, Scherr said.

“That’s their priority,” he said.