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Saturday, June 14, 2003

By Michael Gormley / Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The union representing state police called on troopers to avoid making "non-emergency traffic stops" on high-speed roads so they do not expose themselves to the risk of fiery rear-end collisions.

A memo to troopers and supervisors posted Thursday by the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers said "We cannot sit idly by and allow ãbusiness as usual' to jeopardize our members' lives."

The union believes the Crown Victoria Police Interceptors used by most patrolling troopers are prone to fiery explosions when hit from behind by vehicles going at high speed. Police groups have counted 16 deaths of officers nationwide in such accidents involving Police Interceptors since 1983.

"We are urging all our members to put their safety first and reject any illegal division-imposed ticket quotas," the union directive said.

The union isn't, however, calling for a work stoppage or a labor job action to limit traffic stops or tickets, said union President Daniel De Federicis. That would be illegal under state law.

"If they have a choice, we don't want them exposed in the middle of the highway," De Federicis said Friday. He said troopers should try to pull over motorists at rest areas as opposed to along busy highways, where most stops are made.

The memo was prompted by the May deaths of North Carolina and Missouri state police officers when their Police Interceptors caught fire on impact, De Federicis said. He said the vehicles had been retrofitted with shields designed to help avoid the fires from rear-end collisions.

State police said they continue to explore alternative vehicles to the Police Interceptors and other additional safety precautions for the vehicle. They don't expect any troopers to write fewer tickets or give speeders a pass, state police officials said Friday.

"They will continue to perform their duties in accordance with the highest standards," said Lt. Glenn Miner, state police spokesman. "The safety of our members is our number one priority."

Miner denied that state police have ticket quotas for troopers on road patrols.

"Traffic safety is one of our primary missions and traffic enforcement and education are the primary ways this is accomplished," Miner said.

Last year, New York state Trooper Robert Ambrose was killed on a Yonkers highway when his patrol car was struck from behind. Ambrose's family is suing Ford for more than $250 million.

A fuel shield retrofit of the state's fleet of Police Police Interceptors was completed in January.

Ford denies that Police Interceptors are dangerous or unduly prone to fires in rear-end crashes. A Ford spokeswoman said no design could eliminate the risk of fire in catastrophic high-speed collisions.

State Sen. Nicholas Spano, a Westchester Republican, said Ford officials told him last week they will soon announce a fire-supression system and other safety measures for the cars. He said state police expect to receive "trunk kits" that make sure flares and other potential projectiles don't shoot into gas tanks upon impact. Spano said state police are also testing fire panels and a bladder system for gas tanks.

"I can understand the frustration for the PBA," Spano said of the union. "It's a slow, frustrating process."

A 10-month federal probe determined that vehicles with the Crown Victoria's fuel system involved in a rear crash caught fire 8 percent of the time, compared to 6.3 percent with the fuel system used in the comparable Chevrolet Caprice.

The trooper union directive was first reported Friday by the Albany Times Union and the Ottaway News Service in the Times Herald-Record of Middletown.
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