Selectman urges mandate for hybrid police cruisers

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Westborough Police Department

By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer

WESTBOROUGH – Selectman Patrick Welch said this month that he thinks Westborough should reassess its policy about purchasing police vehicles to make them all hybrid going forward.

The discussion occurred during the April 13 Board of Selectmen’s meeting as members began reviewing warrant articles for Town Meeting on Saturday, May 15.

One article seeks $130,000 from free cash to purchase two police cruisers to replace older ones in the fleet. Town Manager Kristi Williams said the purchase is part of a town plan to keep the fleet of police vehicles and related equipment on a replacement schedule to ensure that all cruisers are safe and reliable.

The wording in the warrant article mentions that the department will “when possible” purchase hybrid vehicles. The narrative describing the article then says that hybrid vehicles are more expensive but have features that will result in $3,506 fuel savings and a 22,560-pound reduction in CO2 emissions per year.

Welch said that it is important to get more cars in the fleet to meet Green Communities initiatives and to support the town’s Climate Action Plan. He didn’t understand any reluctance to have a strong policy with a mandate to accomplish that goal.

“I don’t see any reason we wouldn’t do anything we can to be a leading community in this area,” Welch said. “I’m hopeful Westborough can lead the charge with our vehicles and move toward more of these green cars.”

Westborough Police Headquarters sit in downtown Westborough.

Responding to Welch, Williams explained that there is a police cruiser currently on order that Town Meeting approved last fall. Because the vehicle has yet to be delivered, the wording in this Town Meeting article allows some leeway. She said it often takes several months from the time the order is made to the time a cruiser is delivered. 

Selectmen Chairman Allen Edinberg said that he is against establishing a “cut and dry rule,” requiring the town only buy hybrid vehicles going forward because there are “extenuating circumstances” that arise. Flexibility is needed, he said.

For example, a cruiser may have to be replaced immediately if there is a safety issue and the police department becomes short a vehicle. He said that in this case, if a hybrid isn’t immediately available, the town could purchase a cruiser with an eco-boost or flex-fuel that meets Green Communities criteria.

“That’s actually kind of shocking,” Welch said of the long wait time for delivery.

He asked how the town is pursuing speeding the process along, adding that since the town typically waits for a delivery that long, he thinks it could wait for a hybrid vehicle to become available too.

Selectman Ian Johnson pointed out that the cruiser on order is hybrid.

Williams said that the town already has a policy in place, and the article adheres to it. She said that she is concerned about making any changes without the police chief and capital expenditures committee involved.

“It’s probably the policy that has to be changed rather than just the wording” in the article, Selectman Sean Keogh added.

Board members agreed to look it over and bring the issue back at the next meeting.