The City of Austin finally took action after dozens of Ford Explorers have been found to be leaking carbon monoxide fumes sickening Austin Police Department officers.
The city announced Friday it will be pulling all Ford Explorers off the streets.
Interim Chief Brian Manley was one of many city leaders who spoke at a press conference, “This was not a decision anyone made lightly but it was a decision we are confident in this moment that it is the absolute right decision,” he said.
Manley said this starting back in February when APD officers reported carbon monoxide issues with their Ford Police Interceptor SUVS. Since then, more than 69 reports of CO leaks have been made by officers, 20 have had measureable levels of the poisonous toxin in their system, and three officers are still off-duty because of the possible side effects from exposure.
397 of the Ford Explorers are in the police department.
With 61% of the police vehicles gone, Manley said they will have the same amount of officers on duty on any given night but will now be doubling up in the department's remaining 206 black and white sedans.
Supervisors will drive fully-equipped unmarked vehicles from other units. But, there's a chance people could be pulled over by unmarked vehicles, ”This community like communities across the country experiences police impersonators that put a light in their car and try and stop folks.”
Manley said if you are not sure if it's an actual officer pulling you over take these steps.
- Turn on your hazard lights so they know you're aware that they're behind you
- Call 911, give your location, the type of vehicle you’re driving, and let them know someone is trying to pull you over
- Drive to a well-lit area
- Communications can verify if it is in fact an officer
Manley said police response times may be impacted, so now more than ever community members should only call 9-1-1 if it's a true emergency. He suggests for those who need an officer in a non-emergency situation to use their APD App, file a report online, or call 3-1-1.
He said would-be criminals should beware. “For those criminals who think this might be an opportunity to take advantage of the circumstances that we're in remember we have a new fleet of unmarked vehicles that will be out in the community as well on patrol that are not readily available as police cars."
As for the cost of all this or possibly replacing the SUV's, Interim City Manager Elaine Hart said it's still up in the air, “Certainly our focus is to minimize the impact (on) our taxpayers, so we will be looking at all options,” she said.
It's still not known if this will come back on the Ford Motor Company.
About a half-dozen officers from across the U.S. including two from APD have filed a lawsuit against Ford.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Friday it is expanding its investigation into the 2011-17 model Ford Explorers. The probe now covers 1.3 million vehicles.
The agency said the police interceptor version of the Explorer is experiencing exhaust manifold cracks that are hard to detect and may explain exhaust odors. Investigators will determine whether Explorers used by civilians are experiencing the same cracks in the manifold.
But for Austin Police, Chief Manley said they are no longer taking any chances. “It's devastating, any of us, you know you want your family safe and I’ve said from the day I took over, this is my family."