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Replacing the more than 1,000 vehicles en masse could prove difficult for many departments.

By Jim Small
Arizona Capitol Times

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Lawmakers set aside $500,000 this year to allow local police departments to install fire-suppression kits in some police cruisers to prevent the vehicles from exploding in high-speed rear-end collisions, like the one that nearly killed Phoenix Police officer Jason Schechterle in 2001.
Dale Norris, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, said problems with the Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers have resulted in explosions that killed three police officers in Arizona and more than 100 nationwide. And other officers have sustained life-changing injuries
Indeed, seven years ago Schechterle was in his patrol car when it was struck at by a taxi traveling at a high speed. The patrol car burst into flames, severely burning most of Schechterle's body but sparing his life. The taxi operator, who had suffered a seizure while driving that day, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
"We have absolutely got to either take these cars out of service or get them retrofitted," he said. "Otherwise, we're literally playing Russian roulette with the lives of our officers. "
Replacing the more than 1,000 vehicles en masse could prove difficult for many police departments, Norris said, because of the immense cost of doing so. The goal of the state allocation will be to retrofit the majority of vehicles that will stay in service for the next few years, he said.
The funding will come from fines paid by drunk drivers. That money used to be deposited directly into the state's general fund, but the budget approved by lawmakers in late June creates a new Public Safety Equipment Fund, which will capture the first $3 million of such fines.
In the future, all of that money will be used to purchase body armor, stun guns and other safety equipment for Department of Public Safety officers. However, this year, the first $500,000 in the fund will be earmarked for local law enforcement agencies to purchase fire-suppression kits for Ford Crown Victoria police vehicles.
Critics blame the car's design, which places the fuel tank within the vehicle's rear crumple zone, increasing the likelihood it will rupture in a high-speed crash.
While Ford now offers a fire-suppression system on newer police cruisers, the manufacturer's kit cannot be retrofitted onto pre-2005 model year cars because it is integrated with an on-board computer that was added to the car in 2005.
Earlier this year, lawmakers considered a stand-alone bill that would have provided money for local police agencies to purchase aftermarket fire-suppression systems for their vehicles. One such system is made by Scottsdale-based FIRE Panel and costs about $500 per car. It is installed adjacent to the vehicle's fuel tank and deploys six pounds of fire-suppressing powder if the vehicle is struck from behind.
The bill, S1140, cleared a Senate committee, but was never considered by the entire body.
However, sponsor Sen. Jim Waring, a northeast Phoenix Republican, worked to get the funding into the budget.

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