Security at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield is going green.

Four hybrid Ford Fusions have recently been added to the fleet of vehicles used by the SHU security staff. The cruisers are powered by technology combining an electric battery and a combustion engine, which is designed to cut emissions and boost fuel efficiency.

School officials anticipate the new cars will save thousands of dollars over their expected lifespan, while making a small but real contribution to a greener, healthier planet.

The new Fusions replace four older vehicles: three Ford Explorers and a Chevrolet Impala. The four-cylinder cruisers can easily reach highway speeds and beyond, and they were retrofitted with equipment needed for campus security work.

The cars are being used for campus patrols and other tasks such as bank runs, safety checks in neighborhoods where SHU students live off campus, and patrolling campus activities such as athletic matches and student events. Each fleet car generally puts on as many as 15,000 miles annually, according to school officials.

According to Public Safety Officer Bing Benson, the Fusion has not typically been used for campus security work, so equipment had to be created specifically for this vehicle. A hand-held command center was developed that is less expensive to install and maintain since controls for accessories like lights, sirens and the public address system don't require tearing the car apart to mount them. The hand-held controls are designed to be more user-friendly for the officer at the wheel as well. The equipment, as well as the conditioning, is designed to work off the battery so the engine is taxed as little as possible. And the battery is constantly in the process of recharging itself.

The hybrid technology in each Fusion includes a $5,000 battery in the trunk that does a tag-team routine with the standard engine, switching between the two modes for the best performance and cost-efficiency. The car's dashboard gauges often indicate that it is getting 40 to 50 miles per gallon, and Benson estimates the new cruisers saved $400 to $500 in fuel costs over the vehicles they replaced during the first month alone.

Officer Scott Lupo indicated that operating a hybrid takes some getting used to. "When you start the car, you don't feel it start. It's just on. And the engine switches on and off with the battery as you're going along, so you're often not aware of how the car is being powered at any given time. And the battery operation is silent."

SHU Public Safety Director Jack Fernandez said the school measure the new cars' performance in comparison with other vehicles in its fleet under varied weather conditions over the next year. The university also purchased a computer program to track all vehicle fuel and maintenance for future cost-benefit analysis.

Bing Benson explained that all the 40+ officers in the University's Public Safety division have been trained in using the vehicles, so fuel efficiency -- coupled with the University's growing commitment to "go green" -- makes these high-tech new vehicles a winning proposition from every angle.