You'd never see it in a high-speed pursuit, and no SWAT team would ever consider it for storming a terrorist hideout, but some police departments are finding there's a place for a new and versatile electric vehicle - the GEM - in their fleets.

Produced by DaimlerChrysler in Fargo, North Dakota, the GEM (Global Electric Motorcars) is powered by six 12-volt batteries and measures only 55 inches wide, allowing the vehicle to quietly and efficiently thread through tight spaces and large crowds. Stealth and small size are its tactical advantages, and both features are becoming increasingly important in the rapidly changing world of law enforcement.

In addition, the GEM's eye-catching, high-profile egg shape provides an added bonus of enhancing police presence at public events. People quickly notice when GEM officers are on site, despite the silent-running characteristics of the vehicle.

In Temecula, California, Sgt. Mark DiMaggio has been showcasing the city police department's GEM at as many as two events per month, with crowds ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 people. "The GEM is incredible," DiMaggio says, "and it provides really great public relations opportunities for us."

The GEM is not simply for public relations, but also for crowd control and for transporting officers and event workers in comfort and safety. "We want as many of these GEMs as we can get," says DiMaggio. "They're wonderful and can go where our other vehicles can't. At events they can get easily in and out of crowds."

When not used at events, Temecula PD's GEM serves as patrol vehicle in congested urban areas, such as in Old Town Temecula. In this setting, the GEM also serves ably for traffic control and parking enforcement. Other cities in California, including Sebastopol and Anaheim, are using the GEM for similar duties. And nationwide departments with unusual needs - patrolling school campuses, industrial parks, resorts and planned communities - are considering augmenting their patrol fleets with GEMs.

GEM is available in either a two- or four-passenger model (and also short- and long-box utility versions), and has a range of 30 miles on an eight-hour, 110-volt charge. The power pack feeds a front-wheel-drive system, generating a street-legal top speed of 25 mph on roads posted at 35 mph or less, as federally mandated for low-speed NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles).

Typical operating expense is 13 cents per mile, with maintenance estimated at $240 per year. A two-passenger GEM starts at $7,000, and features a plastic body on an aluminum spaceframe with an independent front suspension and a trailing-arm rearend, plus rack-and-pinion steering. The vehicle also has a regenerative braking system that feeds electricity back to the batteries during braking and coasting.

GEM buyers are eligible for federal tax credits and in some cases state or local purchase incentives.

Thirty-two states have approved the use of NEVs so far, and the State of California has certified the GEM as a Zero Emission Vehicle, making it both a practical and environmentally friendly public relations vehicle for police departments.

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