PEABODY — They average 80 miles per gallon, are made of biodegradable materials and have a sleek look. They're the Peabody Police Department's new BMW i3s.
"It's a good conversation starter," Chief Tom Griffin said. "We're pretty excited about this."
As if to prove his point, a woman came out of Furtado's Hardware on Main Street, where the two electric cars were parked during a recent interview with a Salem News reporter, and started asking about them; she wanted to take a picture.
Griffin explained that the i3 is not a patrol car — it won't be used in any high speed chases down Main Street and it's not even outfitted with a police radio. Rather, it's part of the department's community policing efforts downtown.
And a very visible part. The vehicles' exterior sports the city's "Pride in Peabody" slogan, the centennial logo, the Tanner bull and logos for Alx Creative Marketing Agency (which contributed all the decals for free) as well as that of Lyon Waugh.
The department received the keys to the cars a couple of weeks ago and just put them into service. Lyon Waugh BMW of Peabody is picking up the tab on one-year leases for each one while the department pays to insure and register the cars. The sticker price on one car was $51,000.
One i3 is stationed at the Torigian Center with Patrolman Rick Cameron — the department's liaison to the Council on Aging — while the other is on Main Street with Patrolman Rick Heath.
Ever since the vehicles were put into service, many curious seniors and passerby have stopped to ask about the vehicle or to take a picture of it, Cameron said with a smile.
He'll even give seniors a ride to the courthouse at times if they need to appear for a case or other legal proceeding. Griffin said the small electric car is a lot more inviting than a cruiser.
The chief plans to use the vehicles at community and school events and city parades. The department may even sometimes park one down at the Pierpont Street Park and allow the neighborhood to get access to free Wi-Fi for the day. With the proper converter, the i3 can become an internet hotspot for up to 150 smart devices.
He said that, in addition to the environmental benefits, it helps officers become more visible and less intimidating to the public. It's also some brand marketing for BMW and Lyon Waugh, he acknowledged with a chuckle.
"This is going to be (a) symbol for downtown Peabody," said Sgt. David Bonfanti, who works on community policing initiatives for the department.
He was the one to approach Lyon Waugh about the possibility of obtaining a vehicle.
During a spin around the block to demonstrate some of the features of the i3, Bonfanti noted it's very user-friendly. Lyon Waugh did provide two charging ports, but the cars can just be plugged overnight into a regular wall outlet back at the station.
The engine turns over without a sound and the dash displays closely monitor the number of miles the vehicle has driven. The car has a small 2-1/2 gallon fuel tank in case of emergency.
"Let's call it the one-year test drive," said Warren Waugh with a laugh.
Waugh, the president of the Lyon Waugh Auto Group, said this was just an opportunity for him to give back to the community where he works.
A Gloucester resident, he also recently gave two of these vehicles to the Gloucester Police Department.
"What a fun way for us, in some ways, to market," he said. "(But) this is for the Police Department to market themselves." The cars, he added, offer a "softer look" at community events or high school athletics.
At the end of the lease, he said, they'll review how it went and determine how to go forward. His group, however, is contemplating one more lease with another North Shore community in the meantime.
He said they may look to involve the schools and have an essay contest to determine which department gets a pair of i3s.
"We're going to use them gently," Griffin, the Peabody chief, said. "I think they want to see how this works out."
Staff writer John Castelluccio can be reached at 978-338-2677 or email@example.com.