Riverside Police Officer Dan Marrello (above) says the department’s new Ford Explorer Police Interceptor hybrid should meet the needs of the department and reduce fuel costs. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

When Elwood Blues picked up his brother, Jake, from the Joliet pen in the “The Blues Brothers,” Jake was none too pleased to be riding in a former Mount Prospect police squad car. But Elwood, knew better:

“It’s got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters, so it’ll run good on regular gas.”

Cop cars have come a long way since then. They sure don’t run on leaded “regular” gas, and the newest addition to the Riverside police fleet can run without burning any gasoline at all.

Earlier this year, the department’s new 2021 Ford Explorer Police Interceptor all-wheel-drive hybrid hit the streets, the first “green” patrol vehicle deployed by the department.

“The village board has made it clear that, when possible, we should come up with green alternatives for normal operations,” said Police Chief Thomas Weitzel. “This is our first jump into it.”

Riverside trustees approved the $37,700 purchase from Currie Motors through Illinois State Police’s Suburban Purchasing Cooperative back on March 19, 2020 – the first Riverside Village Board meeting held virtually due to the COVID-19 emergency.

The cost of the vehicle was $3,800 to $5,000 more than a conventional vehicle, said Weitzel, but he said the short-term cost could be balanced by lower fuel costs.

“The tradeoff could be less fuel used and demonstrates the village is doing its part to reduce its carbon footprint,” Weitzel said.

Weitzel said the pandemic delayed delivery for months, with Riverside finally receiving the vehicle at the end of last year. It’s been on the streets for about a month, but it won’t be in the regular patrol rotation until every officer in the department has a chance to get acquainted with it.

“The tradeoff could be less fuel used and demonstrates the village is doing its part to reduce its carbon footprint.”

Police Chief thomas Weitzel

“We’re in total training mode,” Weitzel said. “I didn’t want to put it out there until every officer had used it.”

According to Weitzel, the hybrid patrol vehicle could save more than $3,000 annually in fuel costs and decrease carbon emissions by more than 30,000 pounds compared to conventional squad cars, which are used 24 hours a day and average nearly five hours a day idling. 

While patrol vehicles can be switched off during summer months, idling times increase in cold weather, said Weitzel, because the engines also power the onboard computer, radar and other electronic systems.

If the engine is cold, said Weitzel, “To get the computers up and running, it can take as long as 20 minutes.”

The hybrid vehicle does idle in the parking lot of the police department, ready for action, when it’s not being used. But it’s drawing power from the battery, and the gas-powered engine will only periodically start – and then run for only 30 or 40 seconds – to recharge the battery.

Riverside Police Officer Dan Marrello, whose personal vehicle is a hybrid, said the new addition to the fleet ought to serve the needs of Riverside police. The engine will kick over to the gas motor if it’s accelerating quickly, but if an officer is doing routine driving and the battery is powered up, it’ll run completely without burning gasoline.

“To me, the benefit is the day in and day out of just patrolling the streets and not wasting a ton of gas by just doing that,” Marrello said. “City driving is what this is for. I can’t see this for like state patrol on I-55 where you go 100 mph after speeders. But, this is perfect for Riverside, I think. It’ll do well.”

Marrello has driven the new hybrid on patrol in the past month and said he’s already seen evidence of it using significantly less fuel.

“Typical 25 mph driving, which is patrol driving, with the stop signs and everything else, I was getting 21 miles per gallon, where I think it’s 13 with the other squads,” Marrello said. “So that right there was a big difference already.”

Weitzel said the department is scheduled to replace another vehicle this year but will choose a conventional squad car. Riverside police may opt for more hybrid vehicles in the future, but Weitzel said he wants at least a full year’s worth of data on fuel and cost savings as well as performance reviews of officers who use the hybrid squad car.

“If it meets expectations, we could move toward that,” Weitzel said.

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