Portuguese criminals throughout Lisbon may have to peek over their shoulders in fear of silent justice.
Electric Nissan Leaf hatchbacks, bearing the moniker "Polícia," could pull up stealthily at a moment's notice to bring the law.
The primary role for the eight vehicles is to patrol school grounds for the national police force's (Polícia de Segurança Pública, or PSP) school security program, but they're also available for duty if trouble arises in the Lisbon metropolitan area, said António Pereira Joaquim, a Nissan spokesman in Portugal.
"If you want to approach these guys in a sensitive location, you can go with silence," Joaquim said in an interview. "For most of the missions, it's a perfectly usable car, with the advantage of zero emissions."
So far, the Leaf isn't being used as a patrol car in the United States, but Nissan is open to talking with police forces interested in adding the hatchbacks to their fleets, said Brian Brockman, a Nissan spokesman.
"We don't have any Leafs in service that we're aware of around the U.S. in that type of usage. That's pretty unique over in Portugal," Brockman said in an interview. "We've got some study plans that we're putting in place to use them in taxi services and other kinds of fleet applications."
Leaf up to task
Electric vehicles' lack of sound has sparked pedestrian safety concerns -- particularly among advocates for the blind. U.S. safety regulators have been considering rules that would require electric vehicles to emit sounds.
But in the case of police duty, could the silence of an electric vehicle serve as a selling point for the niche police-car market?
In Portugal, Joaquim said "two or three" of the vehicles are on the streets now, while the others are getting outfitted with police sirens and lights. The police version of the Leaf, which has a 73-mile range, won't feature any performance enhancements.
PSP is using a "next-generation vehicle" to pass on an eco-friendly message to students and show that an emissions free future is possible, Joaquim said.
"We want to continue contributing to the reduction in pollution in large urban centers and the introduction of the 100 percent electric Nissan Leaf sets a new benchmark for our fleet," said Paul Gomes Valente, National Director of PSP, in a statement.
Joaquim said the milestone helps alter the perception of EVs by proving they can handle some of the same tasks of their fuel-driven counterparts.
Portugal was one of the first countries to install a network of EV chargers in its largest cities as well the first to sell the Leaf to the European public after its 2011 introduction, according to Nissan.
"We believe that we can use electric vehicles for most of the uses that are presently done by regular combustion cars," Joaquim said. "We believe that electric vehicles can perform very well in most conditions, mainly for private use but also for some professional use, and this is an example."
U.S. police departments already have used hybrids for a variety of tasks, such as parking enforcement.
For example, the New York Police Department added the Chevrolet Volt to its roster in 2011 to go along with its hybrid collection of Nissan Altimas, Toyota Priuses and Ford Fusions and Escapes. The department has more than 400 electrified vehicles, according to the city.
Meanwhile, the Lincoln Police Department in Nebraska has saved fuel by turning to the 2010 Ford Escape hybrid, which gets around 25 to 35 mpg, according to Fleet Manager Patrick Wenzl.
"Mounting equipment in these was an obstacle as the aftermarket has limited product availability. We relied on our own creativity to get them ready for the road," Wenzl wrote in an e-mail to Automotive News. "They have been received well by officers, particularly the mpg status monitor that makes officers more aware of their driving habits and how it impacts fuel economy."
The department has three Escape SUVs in its marked fleet and several Fusions in its unmarked detective fleet. It used to have a 2002 Prius for parking enforcement duties.