Two Arizona troopers were dead. A Phoenix cop was in the hospital, comatose and badly burned. In each case, their Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor had caught fire when it was hit from behind. Ford had assured Mike Fuson and others at the Arizona Department of Public Safety that nothing was wrong with the Crown Vic.
The Detroit Free Press reports that Fuson decided to test a theory of his own: Could a piece of rubber radiator hose prevent more fires? He designed a shield that was installed on about 900 state-owned Crown Vic police cruisers; he gave samples to Ford, which insisted for a year that they weren’t necessary. The Free Press, in the second of a 2-part series, says it was the kind of exchange that police and mechanics had with Ford since 1999, when a Florida trooper first raised questions about the Crown Vic. The trooper recommended that Ford install safety shields and take other steps to protect the gas tank from exploding in rear-end crashes.
After Dallas complained, Ford official Sue Cischke said the city’s police department had refused to meet with the company. “That is regrettable because I believe we could have addressed concerns, as we have with dozens of departments nationally, by demonstrating both the outstanding safety record of the CVPI and the work we have done with the law enforcement community,” Cischke said.
In September 2002, Ford said it would install plastic shield kits to protect the gas tanks of 350,000 Crown Victoria police cars on the road nationwide and on new ones. By then, three years had passed since state troopers in Florida had begun investigating fiery crashes of Crown Vics. In that time, at least four officers had died, and another was badly burned.
In an editorial, the Free Press says Ford “did not do right by its customers in its initial response to deadly fires in Crown Victoria police cars.” The paper said the company “appears to have spent more energy trying to convince police agencies and government regulators that there was no problem with the cars than in addressing the genuine fears of police using them.”
The Free Press, noting that 85 percent of the police vehicles in the U.S. are Crown Vics, says that “Ford should have been big enough to do better by these loyal and highly visible Crown Vic users.” Since the 1980s, at least 18 officers have been killed in Crown Vics that burst into flames after being hit at high speed. Adding similar civilian vehicles, the Free Press found 30 such deaths from 1992-2001. “Police have plenty to worry about in their daily patrols of our unpredictable society,” the Free Press says. “They deserved better response from Ford about the safety of their patrol cars.”