The last thing a police officer trying to chase down a suspect in a high-speed pursuit needs to see is a warning that their patrol car is running low on gas — or on battery juice.
But that’s how it went down Friday night in Fremont — in a Tesla no less. A Fremont police officer pursuing a suspect while driving the department’s Tesla Model S patrol car noticed it was running out of battery power.
During the pursuit of a “felony vehicle” that started in Fremont and reached peak speeds of about 120 miles per hour on the highway, the officer driving the Tesla radioed in to dispatch that he might not be able to continue the chase he was leading.
“I am down to six miles of battery on the Tesla so I may lose it here in a sec,” Officer Jesse Hartman said.
“If someone else is able, can they maneuver into the number one spot?,” he asked fellow officers nearby, as the chase approached the Jacklin Road exit on Interstate 680 south in Milpitas.
However, shortly after Hartman called out the low juice warning, the person driving the car police were chasing began driving on the shoulder of the highway as traffic was thickening, prompting police to call off the roughly eight-minute chase at that moment for safety, according to police dispatch recordings on Broadcastify and a department spokeswoman.
So the Fremont cops pulled off the highway in San Jose and headed back to their city — but not before the officer in the Tesla made a pit stop.
“I’ve got to try to find a charging station for the Tesla so I can make it back to the city,” Hartman said over the radio.
He eventually found a charger in San Jose to juice up his car, said Geneva Bosques, a Fremont police department spokeswoman.
Apparently the Tesla had not been recharged after the previous shift before Hartman took it out for his swing shift Friday, so the battery level was lower than it normally would have been, Bosques said. She couldn’t provide details on why it wasn’t charged.
“Hartman was monitoring the charge and responsibly notifying everyone of its status,” she said in a text Tuesday, noting the department had other officers as well as California Highway Patrol available to take over the pursuit if needed.
The CHP informed Fremont police that the car they were chasing was later found crashed into some bushes not far from where the chase was called off, and the driver was not found, Bosques said. The felony warrant associated with the car is from the Santa Clara Police Department.
Fremont’s police department made headlines earlier this year when this news organization broke the story that it would likely become the first police agency in the nation to roll out a Tesla as part of its patrol fleet.
The used 2014 Tesla Model S is considered part of a pilot program, to determine whether electric vehicles are suitable for police use on a larger scale.
The department spent a tad over $61,000 to buy the car from Tesla in 2018 — which has its main manufacturing factory in Fremont — and spent over a year modifying the car to get it ready for police use, officially rolling it out in March.
The used Tesla cost approximately $20,000 more than a new Ford Explorer police vehicle that the department uses for its other patrol vehicles, though officials said they expect to save on fuel and maintenance costs over the long run with the Tesla.
The department says it has been monitoring how the vehicle performs, and tracking metrics such as electricity costs versus fuel costs. Department leaders are expected to report their findings to the city council soon about how effective the car has been, and any potential shortfalls.
Fremont Police Capt. Sean Washington said in a July interview that things were going well with the Tesla pilot program, which had already been involved in at least one other pursuit at that time.
“So far so good,” Washington said, noting there is usually about 40 to 50% battery life left after a normal shift. “We are easily able to make it through an 11-hour shift with battery power to spare.”
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