Austin police plan for backup fleet amid carbon monoxide concerns


Two more carbon monoxide alarms sounded in patrol vehicles on Wednesday-Thursday. No injuries reported.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating.

Austin police officials Thursday were finalizing emergency contingency plans should they decide to pull their entire fleet of about 400 Ford Police Interceptors, a modified version of the Ford Explorer SUV, from the street amid concerns of carbon monoxide releases that have sickened officers.

In an issue that has gained national attention, Austin police confirmed two new incidents in which carbon monoxide detectors activated Wednesday night and Thursday, but said no officer became ill.

Police officials, working with federal safety experts, also were putting new protocols in place requiring patrol supervisors to collect certain data when a carbon monoxide detector activates in order to help authorities and manufacturers identify similarities.

READ: Five more Austin officers treated for carbon monoxide poisoning

Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay said city officials are prepared to provide patrol services without the SUVs, which make up most of the police fleet, should it become necessary. He said the department has determined it has enough other “pursuit-rated” cars, including sedans, assigned to specialized units or detectives that could be converted for patrol.

He said in a few instances, however, officers could be required to ride together in one car instead of operating solo as they currently do.

“I’m not saying it is going to reduce service, but it could slow potential services especially on our lower priority calls,” Gay said. “But we do believe we have enough vehicles that we could staff patrol.”

Gay said the department could rent cars for officers in the special units, including SWAT, and for detectives whose cars would be transferred to patrol use.

Officials are still trying to determine what might be causing carbon monoxide to seep into the passenger compartments of the cars, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating. Ford officials said in a statement that they “have investigated and found no carbon monoxide issue resulting from our Police Interceptor utility vehicles.”

Police have been grappling with the issue since March, when Sgt. Zachary LaHood became seriously ill from carbon monoxide poisoning. A recently released patrol car video showed him complaining of nausea, and he said he nearly hit a bus and struck a curb before he was able to stop in a parking lot.

WATCH: ‘I almost hit a bus,’ says officer woozy from carbon monoxide

Since then, the city has installed carbon monoxide alarms in its SUVs and said the alarms have activated 40 times, causing the police to take those vehicles off the street.

The issue escalated this week after five officers were evaluated for carbon monoxide exposure in a four-day span.

On Thursday, Gay said officials are now requiring officers to act immediately once an alarm activates and they are safely able to pull over.

They are being instructed to exit the car, but to leave it running. Officers also are being told that if they have any symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure, even without an alarm activation, they should exit the car immediately.

Supervisors also will be required to respond to that location and collect information that includes the outside temperature and whether the air conditioning is operating so the department can pass the data along to federal investigators.

As a result of the incidents in Austin and elsewhere, Cedar Park police on Wednesday ordered audio detectors that make a sound when carbon monoxide is present. Eventually, they will be installed in all 13 of the department’s Interceptors, but in the immediate future those used for night patrol will be prioritized.

Visual detectors were installed in February in all of the department’s Interceptors.

“For these officers, it is their office and they spend 12 hours a day in it,” Cedar Park police spokeswoman Tara Long said. “We don’t want to risk or compromise officer safety in any way.”

Long said the department has had one incident of a visual monitor detecting carbon monoxide in an Interceptor, but when the vehicle was inspected service workers couldn’t find anything wrong.

Staff writer Ryan Autullo contributed to this report.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Police: Maine man punches himself in face to avoid sobriety test 
Police: Maine man punches himself in face to avoid sobriety test 

Police have accused a Maine man of punching himself several times in the face to avoid a Breathalyzer test, The Bangor Daily News reported. Police suspected Brian Fogg, 27, of Belfast, to be intoxicated when they were called to a residence on Jan. 13 and found Fogg’s vehicle stuck in a ditch, police said. Belfast police said Fogg and...
FORECAST: Patchy fog in morning followed by sunshine
FORECAST: Patchy fog in morning followed by sunshine

A winter reprieve is finally here. Saturday will bring patchy fog before noon, then sunshine, according to the National Weather Service. The service warns that there may be dense fog, which could decrease visibility. Visibility is still less than a mile for most places along Interstate 35 and areas east and south of there. The day, which will begin...
HAPPENING NOW: Hundreds gather at women’s march against Trump
HAPPENING NOW: Hundreds gather at women’s march against Trump

10:20 a.m. update: Hundreds of protesters have gathered at Austin City Hall for an event calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. The event started with a performance by The Resistance Choir of South Central Austin. “I went down to the White House, and I took back what he stole from me, took it back, took it back,” they sang...
College student dies after on-campus shooting at Wake Forest
College student dies after on-campus shooting at Wake Forest

A 21-year-old student from Winston-Salem State University was shot and killed early Saturday after a fight broke out during a party at Wake Forest University, police said. The shooting occurred around 1 a.m., WXII reported. It took place on campus during a Delta Sigma Theta sorority party at The Barn, police said. Najee Ali Baker, 21, was...
Pizza shop owner sues when store confused for one where assault occurred
Pizza shop owner sues when store confused for one where assault occurred

A Pennsylvania pizza shop is being targeted, but its owner says it is a case of mistaken identity. Customers upset about a viral video in which a former manager allegedly assaulted a woman have been calling Original Milano's in Oakland -- but the video was taken at Pizza Milano. Ben Sciulli is the owner of the Original Milano's Pizza. He wants to make...
More Stories