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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane council approves $2.4M for police vehicles, including 8 electric models: Why SPD says it’s not enough

A Tesla sedan used by the Spokane Police Department.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane City Council members voted Monday to authorize more than $2 million in federal funding toward the purchase of up to 35 new police vehicles, including eight electric models.

The number represents just over half of the 64 the Spokane Police Department requested to keep pace with the department’s 10-year vehicle plan to replace an aging fleet. The plan would have seen those cycled in for 47 vehicles with more than 80,000 miles – including 29 with over 100,000 miles – as well as 17 with mileage counts between 65,000 to 80,000 miles, Spokane police Maj. Michael McNab said earlier this month. The older vehicles would then get reassigned to lower levels of use within the fleet until their end of life.

Council members authorized $2,374,000 for the 35 police vehicles along with $3,707,869 for four Spokane Fire Department pumper trucks, $90,000 to buy and install electric charging infrastructure, and $100,000 for a study centered on police fleet maintenance, makeup and inventory.

The funding will come from the city’s approximately $81 million allotment of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding received from Congress last year.

The state’s Clean Energy Transformation Act has committed Washington to an electricity supply free of greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.

With Monday’s ordinance, the City Council directed that the police fleet study include electric vehicle recommendations based on the experiences of other police departments and independent analysis. The study will also evaluate potential reforms to take-home police vehicle practices and fleet rotation policies.

Council members hope to have the study’s results in six months when they could revisit the issue and potentially make additional vehicle purchases. Lawmakers in the past have pointed to the New York Police Department’s order of more than 180 Ford Mustang Mach-E vehicles late last year.

“If they should find those vehicles between now and then, bring it back,” said Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson. “It says in October, but I think we’d be willing to revisit that sooner than later.”

While Spokane police officials have said they are not against electric vehicles, they are unconvinced current models are suitable for police work. It’s a sentiment shared by Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration, as the mayor supports the department’s 64-vehicle ask, said City Administrator Johnnie Perkins.

This after officers deemed two Tesla Model Y cars purchased by the city last year unsuitable for police work, finding them too cramped with insufficient power for use across multiple shifts. The vehicles also could not be programmed for stealth operation, said Fleet Services Director Rick Giddings.

Giddings said Fleet Services has found current all-electric vehicles fall short of criteria established for emergency-based use, adding that Avista has told the city there is not enough electrical capacity where the cars would be stationed to support Level 2 and 3 charging stations.

The police department’s preference is the Ford Police Interceptor Utility SUV.

“I have a number of concerns about the reliability of an electric car doing patrol work,” said McNab. “This is a high-stakes environment. Life-and-death situations with police work – something we should not be experimenting with.”

Monday’s action authorizes the purchase of 25 Interceptors, two Chevrolet diesel Tahoe trucks and eight electric vehicles. The ordinance specifies five Ford Mustang Mach-Es and three Ford Lightning trucks, though it was amended to include language to allow police to buy vehicles equivalent to those options.

The ordering process could take well over six months, not including police commissioning, for any new vehicles to be ready for service. McNab said orders for the Ford Lightning alone will take two years to process .

While the eight electric vehicles will be used for administrative purposes, McNab said SPD will put them through levels of testing to determine whether they can be outfitted for patrol.

“At this point, the recommendation would be to not spend $30,000 to commission the vehicle until we’re very sure that it’s going to work,” Giddings said.

Monday’s vote, though unanimous on paper, was contentious. Councilmen Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle supported the measure after their push to increase the number of Interceptors to 54 was defeated on a 5-2 vote.

“We need more than 200 vehicles replaced in our fleet,” Cathcart said. “It’s concerning to me that if we don’t find a way to make this investment right now, that not only are we going to continue to be years behind where we should be, which we are now, but we’re just going to continue to kick that can down the road.”

Using a cost of $65,000 per vehicle, as estimated by Fleet Services to represent a fully stocked and commissioned police model, the amendment would have hiked the overall cost for police vehicles to approximately $4.26 million.

Council President Breean Beggs said he, Councilwoman Lori Kinnear and Councilwoman Zack Zappone met with members of the city administration to work out a compromise. Kinnear said the council had to consider there is only so much American Rescue Plan Act funding to dole out across the city.

“I’m reluctant to throw all of our eggs into this basket,” Kinnear said.

The City Council approved Monday’s measure with little discussion over the amount needed for the new firetrucks – a point of consternation for Bingle.

“I don’t remember us once asking a question of ‘Is there a hybrid pumper truck? Is there a fully electric pumper truck?’ ” Bingle said. “And spoiler alert: They exist.”