Bargersville Police Chief satisfied with its fleet of 13 Teslas

Bargersville Police Chief Todd Bertram stands alongside a K-9 and a Tesla recently fitted as a K-9 unit. Photo provided.
By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — If you Google Bargersville Police Chief Todd Bertram’s name with the word Tesla, you will find thousands of links, mostly because he’s done hundreds of interviews — many with police departments.

That’s because Bargersville was the first police department in the U.S. to add a Tesla Model 3 to their fleet of patrol cars.

Bertram said the town south of Indianapolis is growing quickly and saw its population nearly double to 11,000 in just five years.

With a need for more police vehicles, he said town council challenged him to somehow find some significant savings to expand the fleet.

Today — four years later  — his fleet of 18 vehicles includes 13 Teslas.

And he still feels good about the transition.

The one type of police work it might not accomodate might be state police highway patrols because of the large amount of miles they rack up, he said.

A view of a charging station at the Bargersville Police Station. Photo provided.

“I would say 90 percent of the agencies across this country, it would work with and it would save them money,” Bertram said.

Winona Lake is one of the departments to reach out to Bargersville and is one of three towns in Kosciusko County that are considering applying for grant money through Michiana Area Council of Governments to purchase electric vehicles.

The others are Silver Lake and Pierceton.

Each of the three towns are looking to buy two vehicles.As much as $200,000 is available for each town and the grant covers all expenses.

Bertram said they initially faced resistance to the idea of buying EVs and that cost was one of the big concerns.

Bertram said they faced resistance at first because there was a perception that each car would cost $80,000.

He said they’ve begun transitioning from a Model 3 which is a sedan and cost about  $37,000, to a model Y which is more like an SUV and costs about $47,000.

He said he’s received hundreds of calls including many from Ohio and Connecticut police departments and even one from Alaska where the caller questioned the reliability of a Tesla in frigid conditions.

“They do great,” Bertram said.

“We’re treating these cars just  exactly like we treated the Dodge Chargers and the Durangos. We’re not giving them any slack. I told them to do that. It needs to run like a normal car, don’t baby it,” he said.

One misperception is that the public views Teslas as a luxury car in part because of the faux leather, which he said holds up better when transporting drunks and people who some timetimes lose control of their bodily functions.

Dodge Chargers came with cloth interiors which had to be covered in plastic to protect the interior. Teslas, he said, clean up more easily.

“Yeah, we’re chasing bad guys with them. We’re transporting dirty butts in them. We’re doing everything with them,” Bertram said.

Another general concern among many is the battery life.

The new Teslas’ battery life is rated at 310 miles. In Bargersville, officers work 12-shifts and typically travel about 150 miles per day, Bertram said.

He said patrolmen are expected to keep battery life above 50 percent just to be safe.

The three towns in Kosciusko County announced their interest in the grant program for EVs in recent weeks.

Winona Lake is looking to buy two for the police department and are considering Teslas after speaking with Bertram.

Pierceton is considering EVs for its police department and another for a town pickup truck.

Silver Lake is seeking one for the police department and another for the utility department.

While there is still clearly hesitation among some about the use of EVs — especially for law enforcement — there is also a willingness to give it a try since it would cost town virtually nothing.

“We’re very interested. We were looking to replace a police vehicle and a town truck before we found out about this (grant) so we thought, free is free and we might as well give it a try,” said Pierceton Clerk-Treasurer Myra Mast.

Mast said town council members last year supported the notion, but she’s unsure of the current situation because two of the three council members just took office this month.

Silver Lake Town Marshal Jason McGlennon said the town supports looking into it.

“I can’t say that I’m 100 percent sold on EVs but if we can get them for free to try them out, I can’t see that that’s a bad thing,” McGlennon said.

Leah Thill, director of sustainability for MACOG, said they’ve already focused on jump-starting the interest in EVs with larger communities and that this round of grant money is intended for small communities.

MACOG has invited officials to test drive the EVS Monday.

She said trying out the vehicles through the grant program is the best way to find out if it’s a good fit for the town.

“It’s a great opportunity to pilot a new technology at very low financial risk to the community. If it doesn’t work out well, they don’t have to purchase more, they don’t have to go all in,” Thill said.

“If it can work in Silver Lake and Pierceton, it can work anywhere,” she said.