Indy police test uses for electric police car

INDIANAPOLIS - Sgt. Mark Dorsey's patrol car drew stares and finger-pointing when he pulled into a restaurant parking lot near 38th and Illinois streets.

"Look at that car," said Mischa Bennett, 45, who lives in the neighborhood. "That ain't even right."

Dorsey, a 26-year police veteran, was driving perhaps the most distinct -- and certainly the tiniest -- car in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department fleet.

It's a 2011 Think City, an all-electric vehicle not much bigger than a golf cart.

"You should put a rookie in that car," Bennett told Dorsey. "You deserve something more old-school like one of those nice Dodge Chargers."

Dorsey just smiled. He's used to the mixed receptions given the car, which bears IMPD insignias.

The car came to IMPD as a gift last fall from Elkhart-based Think North America, maker of the electric vehicles. The company, which ceased production amid bankruptcy, donated five vehicles to Indianapolis, five to Evansville and five to Fort Wayne after its last production run.

Indianapolis' other four Think cars are divided between two other agencies -- Indy Parks and the Department of Public Works. Parks officials are using the cars for food deliveries this summer, said Parks Director John Williams, and the Public Works cars are shared by administrators for commuting between Downtown offices and other Public Works facilities.

IMPD has tried using the Think Car for patrolling the Monon Trail and investigating suspicious activities in neighborhoods, said Lt. Michael McClary, who oversees IMPD's fleet of 2,200 vehicles. Dorsey is using the car in his role as supervisor of neighborhood resource officers in IMPD's North District.

Though additional Think cars are not likely in IMPD's future, the vehicle serves a purpose by helping promote open-mindedness among police officers and the public to alternatives to traditional police cruisers, McClary said.

"Getting guys used to the Think has been a problem," he said. "It takes a different kind of mentality to use it. A lot of guys make fun of it. I say, 'Look, guys, it was free.' "

Dorsey knows too well that some fail to appreciate the car.

"Yes, there are people who have started laughing uncontrollably at the sight of it," he said. "But it's got some advantages."

The biggest, Dorsey said, is the car's stealth. Its electric motor is quiet, and its size and shape do not fit the profile of most patrol cars. Those elements enable officers to roll right up to suspicious activity easier than if they were driving their more familiar Ford Crown Victoria Interceptors.

"No one really sees it," he said. "It's just not recognized as quickly as being a police car. When they do notice the markings, they're like, 'That can't be. Oh my gosh, it really is.' "

That's why IMPD officials are considering removing the car's logos and using it as an unmarked stealth vehicle, McClary said.

As for patrolling the Monon Trail, the car proved too disruptive to pedestrians, McClary said. Another purpose for which the car isn't suited is high-speed chases; its top speed is about 70 mph.

"I can't make a regular police car of it," McClary said. "But I actually like the little car. It has its benefits."

In the restaurant's parking lot, passers-by stopped to look at the car. One was downright uncharitable.

"It's funny-looking, that's for sure," said Dave Jeffords, 45, an Eastside resident. "It's the dumbest thing I've ever seen, just to be real honest."

Others saw upsides to the car.

"I'll bet they save energy with that thing," said Lauren Lutz, 26, a Northside resident.

Another onlooker, Carlos Aguilera, 24, stopped to photograph the car with his phone.

"I thought we were in Europe," the college student said. "It's nice they will save a lot of gas money, but if they've got to take somebody to jail, where will they put them? On the roof?"