The Austin Police Department is preparing for a worst case scenario of having to pull all of their Ford patrol units, after several officers have been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide while in their vehicles.
The Carbon Monoxide fiasco started back in March when Sergeant Zachary LaHood was driving his patrol vehicle and almost passed out behind the wheel.
You could hear in dash cam video released by APD, the officer was in distress, "I just need fresh air. My head started having headaches, I can't read and then I hit the curb over here,” he said.
He was taken to the hospital where they found high levels of carbon monoxide in his system.
The Austin Police Association said Sgt. LaHood is still dealing with issues stemming from the incident that have been life altering and possibly career threatening.
Since then, APD installed carbon monoxide detectors in the units.
More than 40 have alerted exposing dozens of officers to the toxin, several have been taken to the hospital and treated. Asst. Chief Troy Gay said more than 60% of APD's fleet are Ford Explorers and they are setting up a plan for the worst case scenario. “Clearly, if we continue to have these particular issues, and we cannot resolve the issue, we need to be prepared to go ahead and move forth, I consider being our last resort and that is pulling all the utility vehicles out of our fleet.”
He said in the meantime suggestions have been made of doubling up officers in vehicles, having patrol officers use detective cars; detectives would then get rental cars. APD said the detective cars are pursuit ready, but decals would need to be added and laptops installed.
Asst. Chief Gay said Ford and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have known about this issue for years, are on a different timetable and they are not going to wait for them to come up with a decision.
“It's like a doctor that they keep saying if you do this, if you do this then maybe. We're not going to wait for the maybes anymore, we are going to take proactive measures to make sure that our officers are safe, and that is the number one concern,” he said.
While the Austin Police Association said they are content with the city's response for now, if the issue isn't resolved in the next couple weeks, they could seek legal recourse or ask officers not to go to work, but Asst. Chief Gay said they will make sure that doesn't happen.
“We are all on the same page in that we are going to take swift and immediate action to ensure that all officers will come to work, that they will be safe driving the vehicles to get to these calls that our citizens expect us to respond to,” he said. Asst. Chief Gay said they will not be putting any civilian passengers in the Ford patrol SUVs until the problem is fixed.