Downvalley cops ponder hybrid vehicles |

Downvalley cops ponder hybrid vehicles

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler/Post IndependentA Garfield County sheriff's vehicle sits in the parking lot outside the sheriff's office on Wednesday afternoon. The department has a fleet of more than 50 vehicles, many of which are Ford F-150s, and is in the preliminary stages of considering a switch to hybrid vehicles to lower county gas expenditures.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario supports switching to hybrid vehicles so long as they can meet the needs of deputies on patrol.

“I am absolutely in favor of hybrid vehicles, alternative energy ” anything we can do,” he said during an interview Wednesday.

But he’s also concerned that standard police equipment like radios and safety cages may not fit in smaller hybrid vehicles. And Garfield County deputies have different needs than the Aspen Police Department, which recently announced it would replace its fleet with hybrids.

While covering a county of nearly 3,000 square miles, Garfield County deputies sometimes must travel down rough and remote county roads or even off-road during winter conditions, Vallario said.

“To me, the first thing I have to look at is, ‘Are our guys provided with the proper equipment to get the job done?'” he said.

The Aspen Police Department said in May it planned to replace Volvo cruisers with 10 Toyota Highlander hybrids at the cost of $35,000 each. The cost didn’t include extra equipment that goes in police vehicles.

Vallario said his department’s 2008 F-150s were purchased at $32,700 each. And there’s about another $12,000 that goes into each vehicle to install police equipment. Deputies are putting up to 40,000 miles per year on Ford F-150s used for patrol, Vallario said.

A Toyota Highlander hybrid could get an additional 10 miles per gallon or more in fuel economy compared to an F-150 and produce around two tons less per year in greenhouse gasses.

Vallario said the decision on switching to hybrids would ultimately be up to county commissioners. He said lobbying on the issue would be “a little bit beyond my office as sheriff.” He expects hybrid technology to improve and would like to see it proven reliable for law enforcement needs without hurting responses to crimes or emergencies.

Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said Aspen’s decision to go hybrid will provide a great chance to evaluate how well the cars work for law enforcement. He’d also like to see how hybrids evolve and develop more of a track record.

“I was really excited to see that Aspen took the plunge,” he said. “We’ve made a commitment as a city to try to be more energy conscious. … The Highlander could be a fairly decent vehicle for our uses.”

Wilson shares concerns about fitting police equipment into hybrids and wonders how well hybrid electric systems would hold up to 24-hour use.

Glenwood police are driving Tahoes in part because they’re equipped to use flexible fuel or E85 ethanol fuel. Wilson had expected the availability of the fuel to increase locally, but the gas isn’t available in or near Glenwood.

Wilson said the Glenwood Springs Police Department has also instituted an employee car pooling program, which is taking around three or four cars off the road each day. Many employees live in Silt or beyond due to the cost of housing in Glenwood.

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