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Ford Offers Fire Suppression as Option on 2005 Police Vehicle

Associated Press

NEW YORK - Ford Motor Co. will offer fire-suppression technology as an option on the most popular police cruiser model, the Crown Victoria, which has been cited for gas-tank explosions following rear-end collisions.

About 85 percent of all police departments use the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

Since 1983, 14 officers have died in crashes when the Crown Victoria''s gas tank erupted in flames after being hit from behind. Critics say the behind-the-axle design of the tanks makes them vulnerable. When the cars are struck, the tank wraps around the axle, where it is punctured by sharp bolts, causing them to engulf the cars in flames.

Dallas police Officer Patrick Metzler died Oct. 23 when his Crown Victoria cruiser was hit from behind and burst into flames.

The new technology will not be available to the public because it''s a sophisticated product designed for professional use, Susan Cischke, Ford vice president for environmental and safety engineering, said Thursday.

In the past, police unions and some political leaders have complained about the safety record of the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. The cars have been the subject of a federal investigation and numerous lawsuits by cities and states, as well as by the National Association of Police Organizations, which represents police unions around the country.

Though Ford denies the cars are dangerous, the company about a year ago introduced a program of retrofitting older models with plastic shields to protect the gas tanks.

Police cars on the road now cannot be retrofitted with the suppression technology because the system uses advanced electronics and onboard sensors that must be integrated into a new computer system, Ford said.

The company said it was too soon to say how much the option would cost, as it''s still in development. The system, which includes sensors that deploy under certain conditions like an airbag, is being made by Redmond, Wash.-based Aerojet, a supplier for the U.S. military.

Cischke also said she was not concerned that the system wouldn''t be available to police cars currently on the road because the problem lies with the accidents, not the cars.

"We think the vehicles out there are safe. Retrofitting has made a significant difference. And the trunk packs have been able to prevent sharp objects from puncturing the vehicle," she said.

Cischke also said Ford didn''t introduce this technology because of the lawsuits that the company has been facing or because of any design defects.

Safety expert Clarence Ditlow, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., was disappointed with Ford''s response.

"Today''s officers need protection, not two years from now. Safety should not be an option, it should be standard equipment," he said. "Ford has just shown a disregard for police officers'' lives in the last 10 years by not doing enough to make Crown Victoria''s safe. Ford is putting profits and sales above officer safety."

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