Correcting a statistic in a media story is easy. If a company reduces its workforce by 100, but the journalist accidentally added a zero so the number reads 1,000, you reach out to the publication and they run a correction.
Unfortunately, inaccuracies in media stories are often not so black and white. Context, nuance, history, agendas and even common sense come into play.
Take a situation last month when an enterprising journalist at the East Bay Times (covers parts of Northern California) was listening to the Fremont police radio — I guess it was a slow night on Netflix — when a high-speed vehicle chase ensued involving multiple police units. The Fremont officer driving a Tesla patrol car had to back out of the pursuit because his battery was running low.
The incongruence of the East Bay Times story — a police officer in a Tesla not being able to pursue a criminal because his battery is about to run out — turned into national headlines, the perfect fodder to trigger clicks and bolster traffic.
Except the sensationalistic news hook turned out to be a fairly mundane occurrence when framed by a deeper look and context.
With this in mind, The Fremont Police Department issued a statement with the full story. In a very clinical tone, almost academic, the Fremont PD walked the reader through what happened, why it happened and what it meant. Equally important, the choice of words and language hit the mark.
Be Advised, Course Correction in Progress
Our Department has unfortunately been in the news this week for an incident involving our electric police patrol vehicle (Tesla Model S). We first deployed the Tesla in March of this year as a fully outfitted patrol vehicle. Over the first six months, the performance feedback and initial data collection has been very positive and we are in early discussions of expanding the program. During a pursuit last Friday night, the battery charge began to run low, and we’d like the opportunity to clarify and provide additional context with regard to what occurred.
On Friday afternoon, a patrol officer checked out our Tesla patrol vehicle at the start of his shift and noticed the battery was half-charged. A typical battery at full charge ranges from 220-240 miles and during an 11 hour patrol shift, Fremont patrol officers drive approximately 70-90 miles. While not policy, we recommend officers begin their shift with at least a half tank of gas or in this case, a battery charge of 50%. On this date, our officer driving the Tesla noted approximately 50% of battery life when he began his shift. While the vehicle is routinely charged between shifts, on Friday the vehicle had just been returned from our Corporation Yard. The vehicle is regularly returning at the end of every shift with 40-60%, if not more, of the battery charge remaining.
The Department lets everyone know that the Tesla patrol car program is new, but so far so good. It also communicates a common sense approach; i.e., start a shift with at least a 50% charge.
Nine hours into the officer’s shift, at 11:05 p.m., he became involved in a vehicle pursuit that lasted a total of 8 minutes. The pursuit began in our Irvington District and traveled on Washington Blvd., before merging southbound onto I680 towards San Jose. Within minutes, two additional Fremont patrol units were behind the Tesla and in the pursuit. Additionally, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was notified and responding. As standard protocol, once CHP has sufficient units, they take over our pursuits on the freeway.
The original story didn’t exactly call attention to the fact that multiple police units were pursuing the bad guy.
The pursuit spanned approximately 10 miles and at times exceeded 110 mph. Regular updates regarding the speed, location, general traffic and roadway conditions were provided by the second officer in the pursuit. Just before the pursuit ended at 11:13 p.m., the officer driving the Tesla responsibly notified his cover units he was going to have to back out of the pursuit because his battery was running low. Just after they passed the Montague Expressway exit, the suspect drove on the left shoulder of the road to pass a vehicle. At that time, the Fremont Police Sergeant monitoring the pursuit gave orders to terminate to ensure public safety. All three units deactivated their emergency equipment and returned to normal driving conditions. At that point, the Tesla was driven to a nearby charging station and the additional Fremont units returned to the City. CHP located the unoccupied vehicle in the area of I680 and the Berryessa exit. At no time did the battery of the Tesla become a factor in our ability to pursue the suspect or perform our duties. This situation, while embarrassing, is no different from cases where a patrol car runs low (or even dry) of fuel.
What a great line, “while embarrassing, is not different from cases where a patrol car runs low (or even dry) of fuel.”
In recent years police radio traffic has become readily accessible through phone applications and it’s common practice for news media and even community members to monitor and even record. On Monday, a local journalist contacted our Department requesting additional details regarding the pursuit. The journalist subsequently wrote an article and released a portion of our radio traffic. Since that time, the Department has received numerous media inquiries regarding the vehicle’s battery. Unfortunately, public interest in the original story propelled it into the national spotlight.
Over the last six months, data on range, performance, equipment, and other elements has been gathered by officers through its use as a patrol vehicle. During this time we have documented two police pursuits, where the vehicle met and exceeded expectations. Our final results and data will ultimately help us determine if the EV technology meets current patrolling applications and cost effectiveness. We remain dedicated to our continued research into the benefits of using electric vehicles and the effects they have on our environment. We hope to share our initial data and feedback soon.
Captain Sean Washington stated, “So far, the vehicle is performing extremely well, and has exceeded our expectations. We are already in initial conversations about testing a second vehicle, likely an SUV model, and we look forward to providing our initial results in the near future.”
The data tells the story, and the data to this point has been positive of the use of a Tesla as a patrol car.
The Straight and True
It’s also worth highlighting what’s NOT in the statement — criticism of the journalist or a point-by-point analysis of what’s wrong in the story. Executives may enjoy the cathartic moment that comes from lashing out, but it doesn’t help the situation.
Several media picked up the course correction, including The New York Times:
In fact, the NYT story included the human touch:
“This situation, while embarrassing, is no different from cases where a patrol car runs low (or even dry) of fuel,” the department said in a statement last Thursday.
And who can argue with the subhead: “Gas or electric, all cars need to be refueled in some way.”
The statement course corrected the original story.