The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 2 | Issue 9 | September 2009

Save Green by Going Green

Although they have received little attention, some state and local police departments in the United States and abroad are making concerted efforts to reduce their environmental impact. Some of the changes are internal while others are mandates from above. Whether part of wider government initiatives or the result of an innovative department’s enthusiasm, moves to “go green” can build morale, improve the community’s view of the department, and even save money. At a time when cities and states are facing serious budget cuts or deficits, every agency should be making a concerted effort to save green by going green.

Transportation reform seems an obvious place to start. Police most frequently protect their communities through patrol, but a typically loaded Crown Victoria may average only 13 miles per gallon. That hurts the environment and the budget. For this reason, many departments are experimenting with alternative ways to patrol. Hybrid patrol cars are a seemingly obvious option, although they are not without disadvantages. A major criticism of hybrid patrol cars is their lack of speed (topping out at about 120 mph), and that at highway speeds they are running on their traditional combustion engines. Nevertheless, hybrids can be remarkably efficient in high-traffic areas; when running on their batteries they use no fuel. Westwood (New Jersey) purchased the East Coast’s first hybrid patrol vehicle in 2007. The department estimates a $21,000 yearly savings in fuel costs; at approximately $29,000 for the vehicle, the hybrid paid for itself in just 15 months. The department estimates that if each local police department in New Jersey (a high-volume, heavy traffic state all around) purchased one hybrid, the state could save $11 million in one year.1

Often touted for being community friendly, another eco-friendly transportation alternative is the bike patrol. Bicycles are not only green but also much more maneuverable in crowds and tight spaces. The San Antonio (Texas) Police Department uses bicycles to patrol their downtown and Riverwalk areas. The department proudly reports a statistically safer downtown. Bike patrols also foster a greater sense of community as officers on bicycles are less distant than those in cruisers. Children on bicycles are more likely to identify with an officer on a bicycle and will therefore be likelier to view law enforcement in a positive light.

Electric-powered scooters are yet another green patrolling vehicle. Scooters like the 2-wheeled Segway and 3-wheeled T-3 are compact green machines that are available with a siren and red and blue flashing lights and can sustain 25 to 30 mph. The Dade City (Florida) Police Department uses a T-3 and another small electric vehicle called a GEM to patrol the downtown area as well as the nearby Hardy Trail, a paved recreational path. These small electric vehicles are ideal for patrolling long recreational paths because they offer faster, more consistent speed than bicycles.2 As an added benefit, the unusual appearance and greater proximity of these vehicles greatly increases awareness of police presence, which makes the community feel safer.3

Green facility construction can be a way to reap long-term benefits. Some cities may follow the example of Tucson (Arizona), which has installed solar arrays on a number of municipal buildings in the last decade, including the city’s joint public safety training academy.Tucson is one of 25 Solar America Cities that is working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy ( to accelerate the adoption of solar energy technologies at the local level through public-private partnerships.

The city of Toronto (Canada) just recently built a police headquarters with an extremely innovative air conditioning system. Deep Lake Water Cooling is a replacement for traditional air conditioning that takes cold water from deep in Lake Ontario, moves it to Toronto city center, then captures the energy transfer that occurs when the water warms naturally. The lake water itself is not used; it continues its usual journey to the city’s pumping station where it enters the Toronto water supply. According to a city-sponsored case study, the technology reduces the electricity used to cool a building by 90 percent and uses fewer dangerous refrigerants that harm the ozone layer of the atmosphere.4 Police departments in the United States from Cambridge (Massachusetts)5 to Fort Collins (Colorado)6 are building Silver and Gold LEED certified stations. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards encompass “six major areas of building construction: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process.”7

Some of the easiest and cheapest ways to go green and save are small efforts like double- sided printing and agency-wide recycling initiatives. Such efforts build a culture of sustainability and save on basic costs. Police officers in Wellington (New Zealand)8 and Montreal (Canada)9 have also been asked to reduce waste in their personal lives by recycling more and minimizing car use. From an environmental standpoint the ultimate goal of all these initiatives is to create a trickle-down effect. If police officers have green habits at work they will be more inclined to adapt them in their personal lives. As representatives and protectors of the community, police with an environmentally conscious attitude will encourage similar efforts by the general public. Law enforcement can show that environmental efforts are not about high-cost, low-benefit reform, but efficient cost-effective adaptation.


Is your agency involved in green initiatives? The COPS Office may be interested in learning more about environmentally friendly policies affecting law enforcement. Contact the editor of the Dispatch at if you would be interested in sharing your experiences with us.

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