Plugged In: Hyattsville, Md., police officer advances electric vehicles

WASHINGTON—Richard Hartnett’s official title at the Hyattsville Police Department might be sergeant, but it could just as easily be chief “EV”angelist.

He has put his workplace on the electric vehicle—EV for short—map as the first police department nationwide to add a Chevrolet Bolt to its fleet. And not even a recent overcast and horribly humid Sunday on the National Mall could tamp down his exuberance for an EV phenomenon that he says has advanced from the anomaly stage to an unstoppable trend.

Hartnett joined a couple dozen EV enthusiasts Sept. 16 for the five-hour event at the tail end of what’s blossomed into National Drive Electric Week. Visitors had the chance to look under the hood, kick the tires and delve into the intricacies of 15 different EV models of cars and motorcycles lined up on both sides of 7th Street NW.

The compact, snazzy Bolt has amassed 12,600 miles on its odometer since “joining” the Hyattsville fleet as a patrol car a year ago.

“Let me be honest, most guys in the department don’t want anything to do with this car,” Hartnett tells Renewal News about his colleagues’ preference for gas-guzzlers. “They think it’s a small toy. They want macho cars.”

But the affable officer bubbles over about the Bolt’s 300-mile range on one charge, its ability to accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 6.5 seconds, the regenerative braking system that recharges its lithium ion battery pack and saves wear on brake pads, the 360-degree bird’s eye view camera, the heated seats and steering wheel, and a stream of digital amenities for phones and navigation.

There’s a backstory to his pride in adding a Bolt to the fleet mix. His supervisor gave him permission to pursue the idea because of his position in technical services and his 36 years of police work.

EVs wouldn’t be on his department’s radar unless Hartnett had done his homework and found grants via the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) that sliced the cost of the car from $40,000 to $8,000.

By maximizing grants from the MEA, Hyattsville also scored two all-electric police motorcycles and 10 EV chargers. Six of those chargers, including two super-fast ones, are free for public use. The other four are designated for charging electric vehicles driven by other city employees.

A Bolt “fill-up” of electrons costs about $7.20 in Maryland.

Despite that fuel bargain, Hartnett doesn’t envision his department springing for a fleet of EVs anytime soon without some sort of subsidy from MEA or elsewhere.

“That’s the question for the ages,” he says, adding that a typical gasoline-powered Ford Explorer police cruiser costs about $27,000. “Just because we have (the Bolt) now doesn’t mean we’re going to run out and buy it again.”

Matthew Wade, CEO of the Electric Vehicle Institute (EVI) in Baltimore, praises Hartnett for taking the initiative to pursue EV technology in the typically conservative bastion of police work.

Recently, Hartnett has traveled twice to Ocean City, Md., and also to Poolesville, Md., for show and tell events that engage the EV-curious and local government officials.

“He speaks so well to EV adoption,” says Wade, who met Hartnett via the MEA. “He’s an example of how one person can make change happen in a bureaucracy.”

Sgt. Richard
Hartnett and the Hyattsville Police Department’s Chevrolet Bolt were a hit on the National Mall.

Wade and Hartnett cite the Bolt as a game-changer in calming drivers’ range anxiety and making EVs mainstream. A fully charged bolt can go up to 240 miles on a single charge in winter and at least 300 miles in summer.

“My God, 300 miles,” Hartnett says. “That’s even better than the Environmental Protection Agency estimate.”

That’s a whole different story from just four years ago when Hartnett’s leased EV came with a gas-powered range extender because of mileage limitations. Battery improvements since then, he says, even his once-wary girlfriend has become an EV devotee.

Hartnett has discovered that the aerodynamic Bolt, which he refers to as an “affordable Tesla,” is an opportunity for him to engage with residents at a time “when police relations are at an all-time low.”

“I can get into gear-head talk with people,” he explains. “It gives me a chance to talk about something other than your uncle being arrested last night.”

Hartnett, who votes Republican, says he is puzzled why clean energy would be considered a partisan issue. He views the 30 solar panels mounted on his home’s roof as a source of homegrown electricity for his personal plug-in vehicle.

“When people ask how can I be a Republican and drive an EV, I tell them the main reason is that I hate buying gas,” he says. “We’ve never fought a war for electricity, but we have for oil.”

Electric vehicles don’t require oil changes. Plus, he adds, they are smooth and noiseless, and the up-front torque makes them snappy when zipping in and out of traffic.

“And the best thing is,” he concludes, “I can drive past all of those gas stations and just wave, laugh and keep going.”


Elizabeth McGowan

Elizabeth H. McGowan is a Washington, D.C.-based, award-winning energy and environment reporter. As a staff writer for InsideClimate News, her groundbreaking dispatches from Kalamazoo, Mich., “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You Never Heard Of” won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. An e-book version of the narrative won the Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Elizabeth, who started her career at daily newspapers in Vermont and Wisconsin, has served as a Washington correspondent for Crain Communications, Penton Media, and most recently, Energy Intelligence. Her freelance news reports and features have also appeared in E/The Environmental Magazine; Washingtonian magazine; Intelligent Utility magazine; Outdoor America (magazine of the Izaak Walton League); the journal Appalachia; Capital Community News; the Gulf of Maine Times; Mizzou, the alumni magazine for the University of Missouri; Lore, the magazine of the Milwaukee Public Museum; and Nature Conservancy magazine Elizabeth’s latest reporting venture is Renewal News, a start-up that explores the intersection of nature, labor and energy. The idea is to tell stories about how U.S. communities are evolving as climate change forces all sectors to re-examine their relationship with a fossil-fuel dominant economy.

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