AUSTIN - The Austin Police Department is in the process of phasing out its whole fleet of Ford Explorers – nearly 400 SUVs.
This comes after dozens of reports of carbon monoxide poisoning over the last several months, followed by an investigation by federal authorities and the Ford Motor Company.
Saturday was the first day of transition.
The east substation was the first to start the process.
Assistant Chief Troy Gay said the substation was hit hardest by the carbon monoxide issues.
"The equipment in it is anything from fire extinguishers, our throw ropes for our vests,” said assistant chief Troy Gay. “Our sticks that we throw when we get into pursuits."
Asst. Chief Gay said all the equipment, including technical items like computer systems to in-camera car system to radio, are being taken out of the police utility interceptors or Ford Explorers. All 397 of them.
They will be replaced with about 240 existing cars.
APD said 62 officers have filed for workers’ compensation for carbon monoxide symptoms. Three of those are on no-duty status.
"There is nothing we take more seriously than providing you with the safest and most reliable vehicles," said Hau Thai-Tang, executive vice president of Product Development and Purchasing at Ford.
In the meantime, Asst. Chief Gay said officers will ride in Ford Crown Victorias or sedan interceptors – some unmarked. Officers may have to double up.
Interim Chief Brian Manley addressed the issue, particularly response times, Friday.
"We're going to look to see if there's an increase in crime in a certain neighborhood, or a new crime hot spot that pops up,” said Chief Manley. “Or if response times are impacted more greatly in one part of the city or another. And as we always do, we will respond to that and make the necessary changes."
Another issue is size.
One of the reasons APD purchased Ford Explorers was because “it was a little bit easier to get prisoners in and out of the backseat,” said Asst. Chief Gay. “The Sedan is a smaller vehicle, so it's a challenge to get a large individuals in and out of that particular vehicle."
But Asst. Chief Gay said he is confident APD has the ability to do its job.
The transition is expected to finish by the end of Monday.
The Austin Police Department said it is tracking the cost associated with the carbon monoxide issues but has not released a concrete number yet.
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