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Reuters / January 23, 2004

DETROIT -- The city of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit Thursday against Ford Motor Co. demanding that the automaker fix its Crown Victoria police cars, which have been involved in the deaths of at least 16 U.S. police officers.

Philadelphia, joining lawsuits against Ford filed in at least eight other states, said taxpayers should not have to pay to improve the safety of the police cars, which are used by about 85 percent of U.S. police departments.

Ford insists the police cars are safe, but it made changes to the 2003 model year Crown Victoria, adding at its own cost rubber and plastic shields to protect gas tanks. The tanks have exploded in high-speed rear-end collisions, resulting in the deaths of police officers.

"We believe that the Crown Victoria police interceptor is a very safe vehicle," Ford spokeswoman Carolyn Brown said. She said she had not seen the Philadelphia lawsuit and therefore could not comment on it.

Ford also sells an optional "trunk pack" to store sharp-edged or heavy equipment to prevent a gas tank puncture in a high-speed crash. But the city of Philadelphia criticized Ford for charging police departments for safety equipment and for not seeking an independent source to recommend changes to the Crown Victoria.

In a statement, Philadelphia City Solicitor Nelson Diaz said, "I watched the litigation unfold around the country, and despite the lawsuits and deaths of police officers, Ford refuses to independently test their proposed fixes, refuses to pay for the best fix available and the fires continue."

A spokesman for the city said no Philadelphia police officers had been hurt, but with 700 Crown Victoria police cars in its fleet, the city wanted to offer the best protection available.

The fuel tank on the Crown Victoria is behind the rear axle.

U.S. safety regulators last year wrapped up a probe into the Crown Victoria and concluded there was nothing inherently wrong with the police car.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the vehicle withstood a 30 mph rear-end collision without fuel spillage in excess of established limits.

However, the city of Dallas said last July that in two 75 mph crash tests, Crown Victorias equipped with the trunk pack had significant fuel leaks.

Ford has been sued by police departments in Louisiana, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to Philadelphia officials.
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