Oberlin police aim to reduce idling time and emissions of patrol vehicles

By Scott Mahoney - smahoney@civitasmedia.com

Imagine police vehicles that are more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.

Oberlin’s interim chief, Mike McCloskey, wants those cars on patrol. On March 20, he gave city council some ideas for how his department can cut fuel costs and emissions with the addition of two new vehicles to its fleet.

“I do understand that there’s an overriding concern regarding fuel efficiency,” he said. “We certainly appreciate that at the police department. I think we should be part of that process and the overarching goal of decreasing greenhouse emissions and increasing the efficiency of our fleet.”

The bigger problem with police vehicles is the time they spend idling.

The department has been talking with Columbus police, which were recently awarded Green Fleet status by Clean Fuels Ohio, according to McCloskey.

“I’m confident, based on what I’ve learned in those discussions, that we can increase the fuel efficiency of our fleet, based on some technology that they use, without sacrificing some of the things we find desirable in a police vehicle.”

Oberlin councilman Bryan Burgess praised McCloskey’s efforts. “We can both provide safety for our officers and the public, and provide increased fuel economy at the same time,” he said.

Burgess recently attended the National League of Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. While there, he heard a presentation by the capital city’s former director of sustainability.

“It was under his direction that the police department began implementing anti-idling devices in their control vehicles,” Burgess said. “It makes sense, if you think about it. There are so many pieces of technology — computers, speed radar, lights, and radio — inside a police vehicle that use a lot of electricity. If the vehicle were to be turned off, those devices would very quickly deplete the battery.”

Two anti-idling devices are being used by departments across the country. One monitors the charge of the vehicle’s battery, and if the battery drops below a certain level it will automatically turn the car on, charge the battery, and turn the car off.

“The other technology… actually installs a separate battery just for that equipment,” Burgess said. “It runs the equipment, the air conditioner, and the heater in the vehicle — the idea being that when police vehicles are not moving, they don’t need to be running.

“This has resulted as a savings in Columbus up to 35 percent, or so, in fuel economy. That’s huge.”

During his talks with the Columbus PD, McCloskey learned that a vehicle idling for one hour can be the equivalent of 33 miles of driving.

Also, the Columbus PD estimates that the anti-idling devices save the department more than $14,000 in fuel costs over the life of a vehicle.

McCloskey is researching the cost to have similar devices installed in Oberlin’s fleet but hasn’t received an estimate yet. He’s also considering alternative devices for some of the department’s older vehicles that wouldn’t be compatible with anti-idling devices designed for new vehicles.

Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter.

By Scott Mahoney