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The thin green line: Cops go electric

Quiet, electric MINI helps sheriff’s deputies lower emissions

Posted: December 1, 2009 10:04 p.m.
Updated: December 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Sgt. Ron Shaffer demonstrates the all-electric Mini Cooper test vehicle at the SVC Sheriff's Station last week.

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When deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station rev up their new electric car, it barely makes a sound.

"It's so quiet," Sheriff's Sgt. Ron Shaffer said after turning the key in the dark silver 2008 MINI E. "It's got pretty good mileage because it doesn't change gears."

But don't expect to see the tiny car running down crooks or chasing speeders - it's only for administrative work.

Last August, MINI Cooper began distributing 17 electric cars to about a dozen Los Angeles County sheriff's stations, said sheriff's Sgt. Kristi Yeager of the Communications and Fleet Management Bureau.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is leasing each car for $10 a month until August 2010, Yeager said.

Local deputies began test-driving their green machine in October and sending feedback to the company for future development of the model, she added.

The electric car is a helpful addition to the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station's fleet of about 80 vehicles, sheriff's officials said.

"It's an extra vehicle that we can use just specifically for administrative tasks, (like) going to meetings, or transporting paperwork," Shaffer said.

The car isn't designed for high-speed chases or routine patrol tasks.

"You can't transport prisoners, (and) you can't do a traffic stop," Shaffer said of the car that has only two seats because the battery takes up so much space. "It has limited use as far as police functions go."

Deputies reboot the vehicle daily in a charging station installed by the company. Each full charge lasts about three hours and yields about 90 to 100 miles of travel, officials said.

The test run could lead to future purchases of electric cars, Yeager said.

But deputies would still be limited to using them only for administrative purposes. That's because emergency vehicles would drain the power too quickly, since they travel at fast speeds and require high-energy equipment, Yeager added.

"Everybody's trying to play their part with lowering emissions," she said. "We're always looking at a vehicle that's obviously ‘green,' whether it's electric or hybrid, but also something that would be practical for the department."

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