Limit Unsafe Police Cruisers

Poughkeepsie Journal

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Across the country, police officers are still dying in Ford Crown Victorias. The New York State Police and local departments ought to avoid using these cars for non-emergency stops on high-speed highways. That's the suggestion of the state troopers' Police Benevolent Association, and it's a reasonable one. It ought to be adopted by the state police, as well as municipal and county police.

The best way to do this would be by using safer automobiles on more-dangerous highways, and the Crown Victoria for other, more routine work. If this car cannot be made much more trustworthy, it should be taken out of service and replaced with a different model.

The PBA has also urged another good way to make these and other brands of police cruiser safer, too -- adding reflective warning lights to cruiser roofs, that would shine toward the rear during traffic stops, making the vehicles more visible from behind. This good idea failed to pass the state Assembly this year; it should be reintroduced.

The state police are also looking into adding a special fire-retardant panel, and even into rearranging emergency tools officers keep in their trunks. In some accidents, said state police spokesman Col. David Christler, this equipment was pushed through the fuel tank wall, releasing gasoline.

Safety standards not tough enough

At least 16 officers nationwide have perished when their cars caught fire after being struck from behind by another vehicle. New York State Trooper Robert Ambrose was one of them. He died in December 2002, while idling in his Crown Victoria next to the state Thruway in Yonkers, filling out forms.

Following Ambrose's death, a safety shield was installed on all state police vehicles of this type. But that apparently doesn't make them safe enough. As recently as May, four more Crown Victorias -- fitted with the safety shield -- were rear-ended, and all four burst into flames. A state trooper in Missouri and another in North Carolina died in two incidents. Fortunately, the other two vehicles were unoccupied when they were hit.

The Crown Victoria is the brand most often chosen for police use. Some 350,000 are in service across the country. Their popularity makes it even more imperative that they be made safer.

The manufacturer, Ford Motor Co., insists they're safe. So, too, does the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which conducted tests on the Crown Victoria last fall. But the tests only determined that the car meets federal fuel system safety standards -- which involves an impact at no greater than 30 mph.

On today's busy highways, that standard is ludicrous.

And officers keep dying.

For the sake of safety, police leaders -- both state and local -- should advise their officers to avoid using this vehicle to make traffic stops on high-speed highways. And equip these cars with the blue safety lights.