They can chase down bad guys and frighten speeding motorists into slowing down to a crawl on sight.
But how fuel efficient are the squad cars Illinois State Police troopers use?
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The Illinois tollway is using the resources of Argonne National Laboratory to answer that question. The two entities announced a partnership last week in which Argonne researchers will study Illinois State Police District 15 squad cars for ways to improve fuel efficiency.
Scientists will simulate real-life conditions at their Center for Transportation Research using a donated police vehicle and also are outfitting a squad with equipment to monitor how it burns gas.
"We'll be able to collect a rich database to see how police use their cars now," Argonne manager of vehicle testing and analysis Glenn Keller said.
The agency has embarked on a three-year partnership with DuPage County-based Argonne to develop new energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive strategies.
Reducing the tollway's $2 million annual gas bill by just 1 percent would save $20,000, Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
One area researchers will focus on is how to reduce idling. Currently, state police can't turn the ignition off while on surveillance because so much equipment, from radios to cameras, runs off the engine.
The issue for Argonne staff is "are there smart things we could do relatively easily?" Keller said.
For example, if a battery could be developed to handle that energy load, plus provide heating and air-conditioning, it would reduce fuel use, Keller said.
"The challenge is if we can come up with a cost-effective battery of small enough size and long enough duration it could be used in stationary patrols without a loss of function."
Scientists will also have to create technology that doesn't interfere with the squad car's performance or affect its warranty. If they're successful, it could result in an innovation other police departments could adopt.
Ultimately, any new technology could benefit motorists throughout the state, Argonne Director Eric Isaacs said.
The study is expected to take a year to allow for collecting data through four seasons.
Argonne is also using Illinois tollway facilities to study solar panels and how they perform under various environmental conditions.