Adopting Recon E-Bikes the latest step in electrifying UVM Police Services’ fleet


It’s more and more of a common sight to see uniformed officers patrolling campus while cruising on e-bikes these days. That’s thanks to officers on the University of Vermont’s Police Services staff who are ditching horsepower for pedal power.

Police Services recently purchased a pair of e-bikes, partly out of concern for contributing to UVM’s ambitious climate neutrality goals, and partly due to a love of cycling.

“We have a group here who are dedicated recreational bikers and they are sold on the physical fitness benefits of cycling,” said Jason Lawson, deputy chief of operations at UVM’s Police Services. “The initiative came from the bottom up, and it’s rewarding to see how this collective interest came to fruition in the acquisition of these bikes.”

Lawson, an avid biker himself, rode bike patrols for the Burlington Police Department during his 20 year career with BPD. “It’s a great way to stay fit. There’s lots of riding you can get in during a day,” he said.

Police Services Chief Tim Bilodeau said UVM had also adopted bike patrols as far back as the 1990s, but interest petered out. Now, a new wave of officers motivated by a healthy lifestyle and a commitment to sustainability are leading the way.

Lawson collaborated with Abby Bleything, sustainable transportation program manager at UVM, who made funds available through an e-bike fund offered by UVM’s Sustainability Office.

“The seed funding for this project was from the Office of Sustainability which has resulted in the acquisition of eight departmental e-bikes across campus,” Bleything said.

The new RECON Interceptor Power Bikes operate in three different modes: manual, pedal assist and fully electric. At 90 pounds, they are much heavier than standard e-bikes.

“With a few modifications, like adding studded tires in snow, these are full year-round vehicles,” notes Lawson. “The package came with a curriculum and training program. Some of our officers received training in October, and close to half of our force (of 20 officers) have expressed interest in getting the training.”

Both officers note that bike patrols also present a friendlier face to policing. “A bike instead of a police car always brings something different to an encounter,” Bilodeau says. “But the bikes can serve a full patrol function for us. In some cases, bikes will have a quicker and more nimble response than a vehicle could provide.”

A green fleet

It’s not the first time that UVM Police Services  has embraced green technology to reduce carbon emissions. As the result of a 2017 Sustainable Campus Fund proposal submitted by Bleything and Zach Borst ’10 G ’22, the department adopted a no-idle system for its vehicle fleet.

Not a standard feature on most gasoline-powered cars at the time, the technology allows equipment in the vehicle to be powered on while the engine is turned off. This is especially important in police vehicles because officers need continuous power to their computers. The idle reduction system also monitored battery levels to make sure vehicle batteries would not die during periods of prolonged cold weather.

“In the past we needed engines to be idling when on patrol so we could respond quickly in an emergency,” explained Bilodeau. “The idle reduction devices allow us to get up to speed rapidly without having to keep the engine running.”

Bleything notes that transportation is the largest single contributor to greenhouse gases in Vermont, and vehicle idling burns 0.5-1.0 gallons of fuel an hour. That’s one reason why the state has adopted the ambitious goal of putting 126,000 plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2030 to meet the objectives of the Vermont Climate Action Plan.

“We felt like it was a no-brainer,” said Lawson. “If we can increase savings and reduce our carbon footprint at the same time, there’s no reason not to do it.”

On that front, UVM police are also beginning to electrify their fleet through the purchase of a Toyota Bz4x and a Ford F-150 Lightning. The latter vehicle is used on campus to deliver signs, barriers and equipment to the site of large events like commencement. The Toyota is used for off-campus trips UVM officers take to attend meetings and training sessions.

The COVID shutdown and recent strikes in the auto industry have delayed delivery, but police services is in line to receive hybrid electric patrol vehicles to replace gas powered vehicles through UVM’s fleet procurement procedure developed by the Office of Sustainability and Transportation and Parking Services. When departments seek to replace a vehicle, applicants complete a vehicle replacement form asking them to consider alternatively-fueled vehicles along with more efficient conventional internal combustion models.

UVM Police Services  plans to convert its entire fleet to hybrid and electric in coming years.