NYS Senate Investigations Committee releases report on Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors

NYS Senate Investigations Committee releases report on Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors
Board of Directors, 2003-12-16

As the Senate Investigations Committee releases its report on the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (CVPI), the State Troopers PBA maintains its position that Ford Motor Co. and the Division of State Police are not taking swift enough action to improve the safety of the roughly 350,000 patrol vehicles in use nationwide.

Union leaders continue their fight to better protect PBA members who are driving CVPIs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The problem of CVPI fuel-fed fires resulting from gas tank punctures in rear-end collisions remains unresolved, with the latest incident occurring two weeks ago in Wisconsin.

Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of the tragic and fiery death of Trooper Robert Ambrose, and it has been 16 months since Trooper George Rought was pulled from a burning CVPI and thankfully was not burned, while March will mark the three-year anniversary of the debilitating and near-fatal injuries to Phoenix Police Officer Jason Schechterle. Nationwide, 16 police officers have died from burn injuries in CVPIs.

“Both the multi-billion dollar Ford Motor Company and the 4,500-member New York State Police have still done next to nothing to resolve this problem. Our Troopers are still driving ticking time bombs,” said PBA President Daniel M. De Federicis. “Bobby Ambrose, George Rought, Jason Schechterle and all the other victims and their families deserve better than to have this problem continue. It’s become apparent that with Ford, it’s all about money.”

The PBA believes fuel bladder and fire-suppression technology should be placed immediately in all CVPIs and installed in new models at Ford factories. While Ford has announced a fire-suppression system will be available in the 2005 model CVPI, the automaker’s public relations effort does nothing for the patrol vehicles in use now that will remain in service until police agencies are able to replace them at their own expense.

The Division of State Police also has yet to take decisive action on its own fleet of CVPIs. The PBA is disgusted the Division of State Police remains in the “testing” phase of technology that would improve the safety of CVPIs and better protect our members. Apparently Division believes the Ford propaganda that fuel bladders will not improve the safety of these vehicles, yet an independent engineering report commissioned by Division and promised in September has yet to be produced.

Forging ahead with its proactive stance, the PBA’s efforts include advocating for the placement of a blue light on the rear of patrol vehicles, supporting legislation that would require motorists to “move over” when encountering an emergency vehicle along the side of the road, and investigating other solutions.

Below is a link to and the text of an article published in The Journal News newspaper of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties about the release of the Senate report and the PBA’s reactions.

Senate committee reports on police cruiser

(Original publication: December 16, 2003)

Nearly a year after state Trooper Robert W. Ambrose died when his Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor burst into flames after it was struck from behind, a state Senate committee yesterday issued a final report on its investigation of the cruisers.

The Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations said a law that would require motorists to slow down or pull over when approaching an emergency vehicle with its lights flashing should be passed and that the Ford Motor Co.’s implementation of a fire-suppression system in the Police Interceptor should be monitored.

The committee also recommended that police vehicles should be authorized to use blue lights, which attract drivers’ attention better than other colors, and that a state task force to suggest safety measures for police vehicles should be created.

But the head of the state troopers union, while praising the Senate for addressing the matter, criticized Ford and state police management for not doing more to safeguard a vehicle that is used by many police departments. Since 1992, 18 officers nationwide have been killed in 29 rear-end collisions involving Crown Victorias, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission.

"Rather than fix the problem, we’re getting some slick and aggressive public relations from Ford instead of common-sense engineering," said Dan De Federicis, president of the troopers Police Benevolent Association. "Meanwhile, our troopers are still driving ticking time bombs."

Ambrose, a 31-year-old trooper and a Pearl River resident assigned to the Tarrytown barracks, was killed Dec. 19. Ambrose was parked on the shoulder of Interstate 87 in Yonkers investigating a minor accident when his cruiser was hit from behind by a drunken driver, police said. The car burst into flames with Ambrose inside. Two others also died.

In March, the Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Nick Spano, R-Yonkers, held a hearing to explore how to avoid fuel-tank fires in rear-end collisions. Several months later, Spano and Ford officials announced plans by the automaker to install fire-suppression systems in the Police Interceptor beginning with the 2005 model.

Testimony before the committee showed that the cruiser’s fuel tank is positioned behind the rear axle within the vehicle’s crush zones. When the car is rear-ended at a high speed, the trunk pushes the gas tank against the axle or the suspension system with so much force that the tank ruptures.

Ford has retrofitted thousands of Police Interceptors with plastic shields to protect gas tanks and has been offering trunk packs to secure items in the trunk, including firearms, crowbars, radios and other objects that could puncture the tank. But the company has acknowledged that these steps, while improving safety, don’t completely protect the car against explosions in rear-end collisions.

While De Federicis criticized Ford and the state police for not doing more, Spano noted that Ford officials appeared voluntarily before his committee and said the company was working to fix the problem.

"They chose to participate in the hearings where they could have ducked it," Spano said. "It would be unfair to take any shots at them."

Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said the company had "gone above and beyond what an automaker would do to address what we believe is a societal issue — people driving on the highways at a high rate of speed." Kinley said Ford was working to make the vehicles safer and supported the "move over act" that would require motorists to slow down or pull over when approaching an emergency vehicle with its lights activated.