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Jackson County patrols via propane cars
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The same propane you use to fuel your grill could also be used to help fight crime — at least in Jackson County.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department recently began converting some of its gasoline-fueled fleet to propane hybrid vehicles.

"We’ve done nine patrol vehicles so far, and we’ll be converting another 21 soon," said Stan Evans, Jackson County sheriff. "Hopefully by the end of the year, we’ll be able to convert all (50) of our patrol vehicles."

Evans said he has given a lot of thought to having a hybrid patrol fleet.

"Last summer when gasoline was so high, the county was paying around $3.90 per gallon of gas and we were buying it 10,000 gallons at a time," Evans said. "That cost was very detrimental to our budget because we hadn’t allotted that much money for fuel because we didn’t expect it to be so high. I started researching gasoline alternatives and I determined that propane was our best option. At that time, it was about half the cost of gasoline."

Not only are the propane hybrid vehicles better for the department’s budget, it’s also better for the environment.

According to the Georgia Propane Gas Association, "Tests conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that propane-fueled vehicles produce 30 to 90 percent less carbon monoxide and about 50 percent fewer toxins and other smog-producing emissions than gasoline engines."

Although Evans says the converted vehicles will run as much as possible using propane fuel, the cars also have the ability to switch to gasoline.

When cranked, the hybrid vehicle will start by using gasoline, but then switches to propane after the engine is warmed enough, generally around a minute. After that, the vehicle will run on propane until the tank is empty and then will automatically switch back to gasoline.

"The converted vehicles get the same mileage and acceleration as the traditional patrol vehicles," Evans said.

As with gasoline, police officers are able to get their propane fuel from the county’s fueling station. The hybrid systems that are installed on the converted cars are removable, so once a converted patrol vehicle is retired and ready to be sold at auction, the department has the option of taking the system out and installing it in another car.

It costs around $3,500 to $4,000 to outfit each of the cars with the hybrid system, but the expense won’t be shouldered by the county’s tax base.

"We’re using some confiscated money that we’ve accumulated over the years from drug seizures, so the conversion isn’t costing tax payers anything, but we do save money on fuel costs," Evans said. "Plus we get a 40 cent per gallon rebate from the federal government for using an alternative fuel. Propane fuel puts less wear and tear on the engine than gasoline and there are fewer environmental concerns because it burns cleaner. It’s really a win all around."