APD officers told by union to drive with windows down amid CO fears

Austin Police Department Ford Explorer SUV units (KXAN Photo)
Austin Police Department Ford Explorer SUV units (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department is considering replacing Ford Explorer SUVs from their fleet, at least as a temporary solution to ongoing carbon monoxide leak issues in the vehicles.

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday sent out a letter to officers Friday telling them to drive the SUVs with the windows down. If a unit’s carbon monoxide detector goes off, Casaday advises officers to get out of the car, call an ambulance and have their “blood drawn asap” for worker’s compensation purposes.

APD said Thursday it is committed to take action after more than eight incidents have been reported in the patrol vehicles in a little more than a week. In all of the most recent cases, all officers involved have been treated and released.

Since the department experienced its first exposure to carbon monoxide back in March, the city of Austin has spent $27,185 to install hardwired CO detectors in all city Ford Explorers, including APD’s fleet.

Even after their installation, the CO detectors continue to go off, adding to fears there is a larger issue at hand.

“We would not be doing our due diligence if we did not plan for the contingency of pulling all the utility vehicles out of the fleet,” explained APD Assistant Chief Troy Gay, who says he considers the option a last resort.

There are 439 Ford Explorers in the city of Austin fleet, with 397 of them assigned to Austin police. The Explorers make up 61 percent of the police patrol fleet. Currently, 40 of the Explorers are out of service because of CO concerns. Another four have been repaired and returned to service.

Chief Gay says the department has enough vehicles to swap out the Ford Explorers with unmarked pursuit-ready sedans.

Ford Sedans, often used for detectives and other support staff, may soon be used as backup patrol vehicles at APD, if the Ford Explorers are taken out of the fleet.
Ford Sedans, often used for detectives and other support staff, may soon be used as backup patrol vehicles at APD, if the Ford Explorers are taken out of the fleet.

“Some of those vehicles are assigned to support units and some of those are on the front line,” said Gay. “We do have a lot of vehicles that we consider to have a pursuit package. Clearly, vehicles that are on our front lines have to be a certain type of vehicle.”

Gay said for several years, APD has only purchased vehicles that have a pursuit package rating, meaning they are equipped to respond to emergencies.

It’s just one of several options on the table that Gay says the department has to look at to respond to this issue.

“What we’re looking at right now is identifying all the vehicles that we have in the fleet — both support and on the line — and figuring out without impacting our mission, how we can redistribute potentially these vehicles,” he said.

Gay says the department will potentially double up on their officers and put them in non-utility vehicles together.

Their biggest priority? “Our number one concern is our front line patrol officers and responding to calls,” said Gay. “For the safety of our officers, if we need to pull these vehicles, we will. We are going to take proactive measures to make sure that our officers are safe. That is the number one concern.”

The Austin Police Department’s authorized strength is 1,908 people. Police say at least half of the department is made up of patrol officers. The remainder makes up administrative and support services at APD.

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