OEM Report: Automotive
Thursday | 21 May, 2015 | 1:17 pm

Protecting police

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: All-wheel-drive, structural strength and a network of sensors are among the features designed to protect law enforcement personnel in their mobile workspace.

Ford builds durable vehicles, using tough materials, that officers say make them feel safer

May 2015 - On April 17, after a crash flipped their SUV during a high-speed chase, two Chicago police officers were hospitalized. The officers survived, but not all walk away. Thirty-two law enforcement officers died in vehicular accidents in the United States last year and 414 were killed in crashes over the last decade, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

What police, military, border control, fire and rescue agencies across 80 countries purchase for the protection of their personnel is not a decision taken lightly.

Modern Metals was able to examine the 2016 Ford Police Interceptor SUV at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, where Ford’s Police Advisory Board also assembled.

“We have been purchasing the vehicle since 2013,” says Sgt. Karl P. Brenner, assistant fleet administrator for the Massachusetts State Police. “We have about 550 in use on the road and we have ordered another 250 for delivery in 2015. 


“We looked at all the platforms and thought it offered the best value. We like the high visibility and the all-wheel-drive. We have had positive feedback from officers especially given the weather we had—90 inches of snow in 17 days,” Brenner says of a bleak period last winter across pretty much all of New England. “The performance has been great. As one trooper told me the other day, there is no more white-knuckled driving.” 

Factory-built features

Ford listens to the concerns expressed by its Police Advisory Board, Brenner and other members say, and the ruggedly built features are tested in severe situations both in-house and by third parties accredited by major police departments such as Los Angeles, according to company spokesman Mark Schirmer.

The high-strength, heavy-duty subframe and powertrain mounts have been reinforced to handle extreme stress and tension. Ford added a steel undercarriage deflector plate that protects the underbody, powertrain and chassis when officers drive over curbs, in medians and on shoulders, and off road. 

Structural integrity is seen in the Interceptor’s safety cell. Crumple zones are placed in the frame and body to absorb and dissipate the energy of a crash away from occupants. High-strength aluminum and boron steel contribute to that strength.

Because accidents will happen, the Interceptor employs a network of sensors that control airbags and safety belts. Processing millions of measurements per second, the network detects if the vehicle is experiencing a collision event and selects which airbags to deploy. The sensors are programmed to distinguish between gunshot rounds and the impact of a collision, so that airbags are not inadvertently deployed during a firefight.


Most police vehicles successfully pass rear-end crash tests of up to 50 miles per hour. The Interceptor has passed a 75 mph rear-crash test. Ford’s Schirmer explains that the vehicle is built to protect the fuel tank and fuel system so that it prevents puncture and leakage. In “such a massive collision,” occupants may be injured, unconscious and unable to exit the vehicle. “In a catastrophic accident, [spilling] fuel would just exacerbate it.”

“The 75 mph rear-crash protection was huge for us,” Brenner says. “Our mandate is to acquire the safest vehicle possible.”

Ford uses AdvanceTrac with roll stability control—calibrated with input from police and Emergency Vehicle Operations Course instructors—to enhance pursuit-driving maneuvers. The system constantly monitors performance and conditions. When the system detects wheel slip, it automatically applies the brakes and adjusts engine torque, which helps to avoid skidding and fishtailing by controlling understeer and oversteer. It also helps maintain control when facing rain, ice or gravel.

Also factory equipped are 18-inch heavy-duty, high-strength steel wheels to facilitate typical pursuit driving and 24-hour police patrol.

Cruiser customization

Troy Design & Manufacturing Co. (TDM), a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford, opened the Chicago Modification Center a few years ago to “upfit”—install additional custom equipment—for each law enforcement agency that buys an Interceptor. 

All the Interceptors (SUVs and sedans), are built on the Explorer platform at Ford’s Torrence Avenue assembly plant in Chicago. TDM’s plant is located less than a mile away.


“Vehicles arrive from the Chicago Assembly plant 95 percent completed,” Plant Manager Matt Bergeron says. “We inspect and tag every vehicle with a radio frequency identification system, then upload information to each of our production stations about all the required content that must be installed.”

For example, a police department in Ontario may want red and blue headlamps, a console package and ballistic doors.

“We have four production lines each with nine stations. Last year, we did about 36,000 [Interceptors], and the year before that we did 29,000,” Bergeron says. 

Ford has a 55 percent market share for police vehicles in the United States. First-quarter 2015 sales of the Interceptor SUV shot up 60 percent compared with the same 2014 period.

One of the most requested upgrades is the Level III ballistic door panels, designed of Kevlar and ceramic to National Institute of Justice standards and Los Angeles Police Department and Ford requirements. Jonathan Crocker, vehicle engineering manager for the Interceptor, says the Level III panel will resist high-powered rifle shots and “special-threat rounds, such as AK-47 and AR-15 rounds. It will take multiple hits. We get emails from officers who have said this saved their lives.”

Over at TDM, “We take apart the doors, install the ballistic panel and then put every part of the door back together. It looks just like a regular door but is now 45 pounds heavier,” Quality Manager Mia Webber explains.

At every station, the parts are production tested. “Then at the end of the line, we do a complete test to make sure everything is functioning properly, the wires are pitched [connected] and all the correct parts are installed as ordered,” she says.

TDM also works closely with the Police Advisory Board. “We share information with them. We want to be aware of what customers are looking for, have them critique the results and model our production to deliver what they ask for,” says Richard Webber, MP&L supervisor at the center. “We also track our warranty system to identify any issues that might have come up and create a quality inspection point for that.”


Engineering might

The all-wheel-drive “has transformed the landscape,” Ford’s Crocker says. “Officers face so many conditions and often have to drive really fast. Our philosophy is just to make it as easy to drive as we can. Also, the officers have a lot of things to do. They are operating their radios, working the computer, scanning their surroundings.”

“From the behavior of the driver, the Interceptor detects lane changes or transmission shifts, then makes the vehicle more drivable at high speed. It means more control,” he says.

Testing on the police vehicle is purposefully demanding, says Crocker. “We take a retail vehicle and test at two times the durability process. We also do special event testing, like when police have to cross a median.” Solutions include “the steel shield that protects the underbody during median crossings, and the steel wheels. You don’t fracture them, you just bend them.”

Arie Groeneveld, chief engineer for Explorer and the Interceptor, notes that all the systems are tested virtually, too, before building a new model. “Safety is a priority so we look at different materials and engineering requirements because material selection will drive us to safety.”

Ford paid great attention to what officers want, says Brenner. “We like the comfort and the ergonomics. It’s a mobile office. We have a lot of room to work, which is necessary because we carry so much gear and laptops. Behind the wheel, the vehicle is very responsive, very agile. We are in the snow belt and it also drives well in a flood zone. 

“At first you have officers who are resistant, because they are used to what they’re used to,” he says. “But after three days of driving the Interceptor, they are mad if they have to get back in the old vehicle.”

Police Sgt. Marc Basye of Tipp City, Ohio, deems the Interceptor both powerful and reliable yet “we are getting 17 to 18 miles per gallon, compared with 10 mph with other utilities. That goes right to the bottom line.” MM


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