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Safety Takes Back Seat Amid 'SUV-ification' of Police Fleets

When the nation's largest police department announced its effort to transition to using an all-SUV fleet, New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner Robert Martinez was quoted as saying the bulkier vehicle type "meets the mission" and is "safe for everybody." Since 2017, Curb reports, more than half of all police vehicles sold in the U.S. are cop-customized Ford Explorers, a model NYPD has been buying by the hundreds every year until it can take the 6,300-vehicle fleet fully electric with the Ford Mustang Mach-E. But as the sedans of yesteryear disappear, the larger, taller and faster SUVs replacing them pose considerable safety risks to the public, if not to police.

The law enforcement shift to bigger vehicles occurs at a time when other municipal fleets are switching to smaller and safer vehicles more appropriate for city streets. The trend, known as "right-sizing," is happening nationwide, from fire engines to delivery trucks — everything except police vehicles. Manufacturers are catering to cops' desire for bigness. Ford’s Expedition XL Max SSV is basically a supersize Explorer, while GM is making the gargantuan Chevy Tahoe PPV. Both of these vehicles have such gaping front blind spots that it would be difficult to see a pedestrian or cyclist over the dashboard. Nationwide, police car chases now kill more people than tornadoes, lightning and hurricanes combined. A sociology professor at Brooklyn College, Alex Vitale, said it presents a unique danger because large police vehicles are legally allowed to exceed the speed limit and perform other vehicular stunts civilians can't. In one move, known as a "PIT maneuver," or "precision immobilization technique," an officer may use the front end of their vehicle to stop a speeding car by ramming it sideways. Police killed 30 people from 2016 to 2020. In 2020, a pregnant woman sued Arkansas State Patrol after her vehicle was overturned by a trooper's PIT maneuver during a basic traffic stop. In 2021, a 12-year-old boy was killed after a Georgia state trooper pitted the SUV he was riding in. In 2019, a cyclist was rammed into so hard that the bike got wedged in the wheel well.


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