Tesla squad car runs out of battery chasing suspect at high speed, California cops say

Teslas have plenty of advantages as police squad cars: They’re stealthy, cheap to refuel and environmentally friendly.

But those electric vehicle advantages don’t mean much if the battery’s not charged.

That’s what happened in Northern California last week, when a Fremont police officer driving a Tesla Model S patrol car led the pursuit of a felony suspect at speeds reaching 120 miles an hour — then noticed his electric vehicle was running out of power, and relayed to dispatch that he might have to give up the chase, the East Bay Times reported.

“I am down to six miles of battery on the Tesla so I may lose it here in a sec,” Officer Jesse Hartman said during the Sept. 20 pursuit in audio obtained by the Times. “If someone else is able, can they maneuver into the number one spot?”

Other officers took the pursuit from there, but it soon ended anyway because the chase was no longer safe, according to CBS SF, which reported that the vehicle in the chase “was later found abandoned in San Jose.”

“The Tesla wasn’t fully charged at the beginning of the shift,” a Fremont police spokesperson said, per CBS. “This unfortunately happens from time to time even in our vehicles that run on gas, if they aren’t re-fueled at the end of a shift.”

A Fremont police spokesperson said Hartman found a charger for the vehicle in San Jose, according to the Times. The Times reported that he asked fellow officers to take over “as the chase approached the Jacklin Road exit on Interstate 680 south in Milpitas.”

Police in Fremont — the East Bay city where Tesla manufactures vehicles and employs more than 10,000 workers — announced in January that they would soon roll out a Tesla patrol vehicle as part of a pilot program testing whether electric vehicles can meet law enforcement demands.

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“We’ll know within six months to a year, either yes or no,” Fremont Police Capt. Sean Washington said at the time, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The city bought the 2014 Tesla Model S 85 roughly a year earlier for $61,478.50 as a replacement for a 2007 Dodge Charger, which the department was retiring, police said. Since then, the department spent $4,447 on a light bar, ballistic barrier, push bumper and other modifications to make the vehicle road-ready, according to police.

Police said the car was “the only electric vehicle that met specifications for size, performance, battery range, and safety” needed in a fully functional patrol car. Those requirements include hard on and off braking and acceleration, as well as good steering and the ability to drive 40 to 70 miles daily, the department said.

The Tesla can drive 265 miles on one charge, according to Fremont police.

Fremont’s goal is to cut its greenhouse emissions 25 percent from 2005 levels by next year — and for that to happen, police have to play a role, the department said.

Buying a Ford Explorer to use as a patrol vehicle would cost $40,000, and require add-ons roughly as expensive as what police spent for the Tesla, the department said. But in just five years of use an Explorer would guzzle about $32,000 in gasoline and require $15,000 in maintenance, while a Tesla doesn’t need gas and could have fewer mechanical problems, according to the department.

Some material in this story was published in an earlier article by the author.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.