Spokane lawmakers voted Monday to authorize more than $2 million in federal funding for the purchase of up to 35 new police vehicles, including eight electric models.
That number represents more than half of the 64 requested by the Spokane Police Department to keep pace with the department’s 10-year vehicle plan to replace an aging fleet.
The plan would have seen these run on 47 vehicles with over 80,000 miles – including 29 with over 100,000 miles – as well as 17 with between 65,000 and 80,000 miles, said Major Michael McNab of the Spokane police earlier this month. Older vehicles would then be reassigned to lower levels of use within the fleet until their end of life.
Council members authorized $2,374,000 for 35 vehicles as well as $3,707,869 for four Spokane Fire Department pump trucks, $90,000 to purchase and install electric charging infrastructure and $100,000 for a study focused on the maintenance, composition and inventory of the police fleet.
The funding will come from the city’s allocation of about $81 million under the US Federal Bailout Act received from Congress last year.
The state’s Clean Energy Transformation Act committed Washington to a supply of electricity without greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.
With Monday’s order, the city council directed the police fleet study to include recommendations on electric vehicles based on the experiences of other police departments and independent analysis. The study will also assess potential reforms to police drive-and-car practices and fleet rotation policies.
Council members expressed the hope of having the results of the study in six months to re-examine the matter and possibly make purchases of additional vehicles. Past lawmakers pointed to the New York Police Department’s order of more than 180 Ford Mustang Mach-E vehicles late last year.
“If they were to find those vehicles by then, bring them back,” Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said. “It says in October, but I think we’d be open to revisiting that sooner rather than later.”
Although Spokane police officials have said they are not against electric vehicles, they are not convinced that 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 request for 64 vehicles, City Administrator Johnnie Perkins said.
This after Spokane police found two Tesla Model Y cars purchased by the city last year unsuitable for police work, finding them too cramped with insufficient power for use over multiple shifts. The vehicles also could not be programmed for stealth operation, said Fleet Services Manager Rick Giddings.
Giddings said Fleet Services has found that current all-electric vehicles do not meet the necessary criteria for emergency use, adding that Avista has told the city there is not enough electric capacity. where the cars would reside to support Tier 2 and Tier 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,” Major Michael McNab said. “It’s a high-stakes environment. Life and death situations with police work – something we shouldn’t experience.”
Monday’s legislation authorizes the purchase of 25 Interceptors, two Chevrolet Tahoe diesel trucks and eight electric vehicles. The ordinance specifies five Ford Mustang Mach-Es and three Ford Lightning trucks, although the legislation was amended to include language allowing police to purchase vehicles equivalent to those options.
The ordering process involved means it could take more than six months, not including police commissioning, for any new vehicle to be ready for use. McNab said orders for the Ford Lightning will take two years to process on their own.
While the eight electric vehicles will be used for administrative purposes, McNab said the SPD will put them through test levels to determine if they can be equipped for patrol.
“At this point, the recommendation would be not to spend $30,000 on commissioning the vehicle until we’re sure it will work,” Giddings said.
Monday’s vote, while unanimous on paper, was controversial. Councilors Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle backed the measure after their effort to increase the number of interceptors to 54 was defeated by a 2-5 vote.
“We need over 200 vehicles replaced in our fleet,” Cathcart said. “It worries me that if we don’t find a way to make that investment now, not only will we continue to be years behind where we should be, which we are now, but we’ll just keep giving kicks that can on 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 increased the overall cost of police vehicles to approximately $4.26 million.
Council President Breean Beggs said he, Councilor Lori Kinnear and Councilor Zack Zappone had met with members of the city administration to find a compromise. Kinnear said council needed to consider that there was only a limited amount of American Rescue Plan Act funding to distribute throughout the city.
“I’m reluctant to throw all of our eggs in this basket,” Kinnear said.
The city council approved Monday’s measure with little discussion of the amount needed for the new fire trucks – a point of dismay for Bingle.
“I don’t remember that we once asked the question ‘Is there a hybrid pump truck? Is there a fully electric pump truck? Bingle said. “And spoiler alert: they do exist.”