Duke Adds 'Green' Wheels to Police Fleet

Police department is first in the country to use solar-powered electric “ELF” vehicle 

Duke Police Cpl. Walter Crevoiserat drives the Tactical ELF, the newest addition to the campus police department's fleet. Photo by April Dudash
Duke Police Cpl. Walter Crevoiserat drives the Tactical ELF, the newest addition to the campus police department's fleet. Photo by April Dudash

The ELF, a solar and pedal hybrid vehicle, has joined the Duke University Police Department’s patrol fleet, making the department the first in the nation to use the ELF for tactical law enforcement purposes.

Created by Durham’s Organic Transit, the first-ever law enforcement Tactical ELF model will provide a highly visible, sustainable mode of transportation at Duke. “We obviously don’t view it as a replacement for police cars, but we are constantly looking at new and innovative things we can do to help keep our environment as safe as possible,” said Kyle Cavanaugh, Duke’s vice president for administration. “This is a very visible security vehicle that’s going to be easily identifiable by our students, faculty, staff and visitors.”One Tactical ELF has been added to Duke Police’s fleet of cars, bicycles and three-wheeled (T3) vehicles, and is equipped with amber-color lights, a thick windshield, carbon-fiber body and heavy-duty tires. Power ports are included in the design to charge radar equipment, radios and laptops using the battery packs. The ELF runs on those battery packs, which can be plugged in and charged using a wall outlet, and a solar panel. The hybrid vehicle takes about seven hours to charge via sunlight or 2.5 hours to charge using an outlet. Once charged, the vehicle can reach about 28 miles per hour and carry about 550 pounds, according to Organic Transit. Through a combination of pedaling and using the throttle for electric power, the ELF gets the equivalent of 1,800 miles per gallon. John Dailey, Duke Chief of Police, said the ELF will primarily be used for patrolling campus grounds.

“We’re excited to introduce another mode of transportation to help us with visibility on campus,” Dailey said. “We are anticipating that both our security officers and police officers will be able to use this vehicle, and it will help us to be more environmentally friendly.”

Organic Transit has sold ELFs to Duke employees, who use them to commute around campus. Duke interns have also worked at Organic Transit over the past year.

Rob Cotter, Organic Transit’s CEO and founder, said he first came up with the idea for the Tactical ELF when he attended a conference in Baltimore, Md. He saw police officers on Segways and bicycles in the rain, and wanted to provide an easier way for officers to stay out of the elements while carrying paperwork and gear.

The original ELF is used on 10 college campuses around the country, but Duke is the first using the ELF as a service vehicle on campus grounds and the first recipient of the Tactical ELF model.  The tactical version has a more heavy-duty frame than the original and includes flashing lights and power ports for communications devices. “The students, the guests of the university and the citizens of Durham see the ELF as an attraction,” Cotter said. “They want to come over and engage with the officer. There’s a presence.”The ELF also produces zero carbon and serves as a quiet method of transportation, Cotter said.“It really works with the whole image of Duke University, wanting to engage the entrepreneurial community, wanting to lower their carbon footprint, really making the campus more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, and my hat’s off to them,” he said.