After months of reports of possible carbon monoxide leaks in Austin police patrol vehicles, the Austin Police Department has confirmed to KVUE's and the Austin American-Statesman's Tony Plohetski Friday that they are pulling all 400 of their Ford SUVs from patrol.
Austin Interim Police Chief Brian Manley Friday said three officers are currently off-duty due to possible carbon monoxide exposure. Over the span of time that these incidents have been reported, Manley said at a press conference Friday that 20 officers have had measurable carbon monoxide in their systems. 62 workers comp. forms have been submitted.
In a memo sent Friday to Austin's mayor and city council, Manley said, "the number and severity of cases has reached a critical mass. The safety of our police officers and staff is our chief concern."
With that in mind, Manley said starting Saturday, APD will begin removing all Ford Explorers and Utility Interceptors from service. He said at the press conference that APD will begin switching cars out Saturday morning, which will include the removal of computers and dash cameras. Teams will work throughout the weekend to make changes complete by Monday night.
The vehicles will be replaced with about 240 existing vehicles. This will require officers to double up in patrol cars. About 80 additional non-front line APD vehicles will be replaced as well, Manley said.
Prior to the decision Friday, more than 60 vehicles were taken off the street after reports of carbon monoxide leaks.
The news comes after days of discussion among top city officials. Ford Motor Company and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took new steps Monday to try to find out what caused carbon monoxide to leak into dozens of patrol SUVs. Investigators were attempting to answer the question of whether the problem is due to manufacturing or if officials in Austin -- which has become a national epicenter of this issue -- are altering the cars and causing the leaks.
In a statement given to KVUE prior to the news that APD is removing all 400 Ford patrol vehicles, Ford said the following:
Safety is our top priority. A dedicated Ford team is working with police customers, police equipment installers, Police Advisory Board members and NHTSA to investigate reported issues and solve them. Customers with concerns about Explorers and Police Interceptor Utilities can call our dedicated hotline at 888-260-5575 or visit their local Ford dealership.
According to NHTSA's report, "To date, no substantive data or actual evidence (such as a carboxyhemoglobin measurement) has been obtained supporting a claim that any of the alleged injury or crash allegations were the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, the alleged hazard. ODI has obtained preliminary testing that suggests, however, that CO levels may be elevated in certain driving scenarios, although the significance and effect of those levels remains under evaluation as part of the EA.”
This developing story will update as more information becomes available.