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Police group sues Ford over gas tanks

NEW YORK, Jan 29, 2003; Gail Appleson writing for Reuters reported that a national group of police organizations on Wednesday sued Ford Motor Co seeking a court order forcing the company to improve the safety modifications being made to fuel systems in police cars.

The case brought by the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) is the latest lawsuit against Ford stemming from fuel-tank explosions in Crown Victoria police cruisers. High-speed, rear-end crashes have been blamed in the fiery deaths of over a dozen police officers across the United States.

NAPO said it represents over 1,000 law enforcement organizations.

In September Ford detailed plans to make Crown Victoria police cruisers safer at its own cost. Ford said it would add rubber and plastic shields around the gas tanks of 350,000 Ford Crown Victoria police cars in use in the United States, and offer an optional trunk package to safely store sharp-edged, heavy equipment.

The gas tank shields and trunk storage kits were recommended by a "blue-ribbon" panel composed of Ford officials and police representatives appointed by the automaker and the Arizona attorney general's office.

However, the NAPO alleged the "upgrade" being offered by Ford is insufficient. The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, seeks a court order forcing Ford to develop and install improved modifications.

It said the most recent death caused by a fuel tank leakage occurred last month when a Yonkers, New York police officer was killed when his car was rear-ended.

A Ford spokeswoman said the suit had no merit and that the company is currently working with a number of police organizations to enhance police officer safety.

She said the modifications offered by Ford are aimed at "making a safe car safer."

In October, U.S. regulators said they had concluded a nearly year-old probe into the safety of Crown Victoria police cars after finding nothing inherently wrong with the vehicles.

The decision marked an important victory for Ford and its popular Crown Victoria Police Interceptor cruisers, which federal safety officials have linked to the deaths of at least 14 police officers in rear-end crashes over the last decade.

The Crown Victoria, a roomy rear-wheel-drive sedan, is the vehicle of choice in U.S. police departments. Ford has said about 80 percent of all police cars in North America are Crown Victoria Interceptors.

Last month the city of Dallas sued Ford seeking information on the automaker's Crown Victoria cruiser after a deadly fuel-tank fire killed a Dallas police officer in October.

The city filed suit after Ford refused to provide information on its testing on gas-tank technologies.