Berea Police Force Goes Electric With Tesla Model 3s
By Stuart Ungar, Founder, Evolve KY
After Police Chief Eric Scott gives the word, two huge garage doors at each end of the firehouse lift and one Tesla Model 3 slowly enters from each side — strips of blue LED lights flashing. The car graphics, clear and bold, spell out BEREA POLICE in all caps. The department put together this special event to unveil the vehicles and usher in a new era of high-tech and less polluting patrols for the Appalachian city.
This month, the Berea police department became the first in the state of Kentucky and one of the few in the nation to add electric vehicles to its fleet.
So far, Chief Scott has purchased three Tesla Model 3s. The cars are actually the same price or less than some of the vehicles they were already purchasing. They were looking at buying a 2021 Chevy Tahoe, which starts at $56,000, so they are saving more than $10,000 off the top by going with the Teslas — before they even start to outfit the vehicles.
Outfitting the Teslas for the police wasn’t easy. Typically, Chief Scott notes, police forces have been using the same three or four models of cars, and templates are readily available for those. For the Teslas, many things had to be done from scratch or rethought. They also had to make sure things were done so that warranties weren’t voided.
The Teslas, with their glass ceilings, made it necessary for them to rethink common things like mounting antennas. They were able to mount the antennas within the vehicle. This typically couldn’t be done in their other vehicles because the roof obstructs the antenna’s reception. But with the roof being all glass, they were able to mount them on the rear deck, just under the rear window, without any issues.
Additionally, the Teslas’ energy-saving features had to be overridden because the vehicle needs to stay “awake” at all times when it’s on the scene. As of now, they haven’t had to add anything like a second 12-volt battery or make any structural changes — just some manipulating of software in conjunction with Tesla.
Some things like the internal and external cameras that would have needed to be added to other vehicles were included with the Teslas, saving thousands of dollars. And, of course, there is the ongoing savings on fuel and maintenance.
Chief Scott sent a Tweet to Elon Musk to ask him to work with police forces and consider building police interceptors to meet their specific needs. He’s gotten no reply as of yet. For more on Scott, a fascinating and forward-thinking person, listen to the latest episode of my Stu’s EV Universe podcast, episode #5.
Berea is the perfect setting for Scott’s bold innovation. The city is perhaps best known for its folk arts and crafts scene; historic restaurants and buildings; and Berea College, which aims to help students with limited economic resources and makes a no-tuition promise for everyone … indeed, no enrolled student pays for tuition. Berea College was also the first co-ed and interracial college in the South.
Chief Scott notes that many residents grew up in tight-knit Berea, and when he came to town from Atlanta, it seemed that everyone knew each other. But as the town is growing, and new industries are coming in, the flavor of the town is changing. He believes that embracing cutting-edge technology and leveraging it for a brighter future could both set Berea apart and make it an example for others.
Scott considers the Tesla Model 3s the department’s test cars. Down the road, he expects to order Tesla Model Ys to gain more room. Right now, they store life-saving equipment in the front trunk, or “frunk.” In the back trunk are rifle racks, cones, patrol bags, and even Beanie Babies to hand out to local kids. They have never been able to separate these things out as all previously owned vehicles only had the rear trunk to store everything.
This isn’t the department’s first foray into electric transportation. They’ve also had a Zero motorcycle for the past three or four years. Scott’s goal is to eventually have 80 percent of his fleet fully electric, and he’s open to other manufacturers as more models roll out. He wants to have 10 electric vehicles purchased by the end of the year.
The town of Berea is working with Evolve KY, Kentucky’s nonprofit electric vehicle group, and their Adopt a Charger program to get Level 2 chargers onsite at the police station for their vehicles and additional Level 2 chargers around town that are open to the community, places like the new community pavilion they are building and the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center where they will be installing a Level 2 dual charger at the entrance of their trailhead.
John Abrams, naturalist at the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center, can envision a time when chargers are so plentiful in Berea that it spurs a mass adoption of electric vehicles by the general public. He thinks the city can be an example for others for what is possible in the space of greener transportation.
Chief Scott touts the Tesla’s safety rating as perhaps its most important feature. He says about 60 percent of officer-related deaths are vehicle-related. In fact, in the short time they have had the cars, driving the Tesla has already prevented a collision for him personally. When driving on a local road in Berea, he noticed the Tesla suddenly started with fast beeps and visual indicators that a vehicle was approaching in his blind spot. This vehicle cut directly in front of him and the Tesla immediately slowed itself down, thereby avoiding a likely collision.
The city hall and police department have solar PV panels on their roofs, which make these vehicles even greener. Chief Scott notes how innovative Berea has been with making big decisions. He sees innovation and being on the forefront of technology as being woven into the identity of Berea moving forward.
“I want to make sure we are prepared and that is what law enforcement is about,” said Chief Scott. “I have a saying that if we can predict it, we can prevent it, so as a police chief, I think it is so essential that we are always thinking 5 or 10 years down the road, because if we are always working on today, I guarantee we will always be behind.”
Stuart Ungar has been interested in how technology can help us live lighter on the Earth for most of his life and remembers going on solar house tours as a kid in the ‘70s with his dad (and having to travel many miles to see each site).
Stuart is the co-founder of Evolve KY, Kentucky’s non-profit electric vehicle group, and has a brand new podcast — Stu’s EV Universe — which can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other major platforms.
Stuart lives with his wife and college-age kids in Louisville, Kentucky.
Image Gallery provided by Stuart Ungar. Courtesy of Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley and Berea Police Chief Eric Scott at the Tesla unveiling.