A look at how police departments modify their patrol SUVs

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ELGIN, Texas (KXAN) — Lights and sirens are a familiar sight, but police SUVs go through a major overhaul before you see them on the road.

“It comes equipped from the dealer as a basic car,” said Elgin Police Chief Chris Bratton.

In light of carbon monoxide concerns with the Austin Police Department’s Ford Explorer Police Interceptors, the chief wants people to know how police interceptors are modified. He hopes to give clarity on what could possibly go wrong and cause a carbon monoxide leak.

He showed KXAN one of his department’s Ford Explorers, the same model giving Austin police problems.

“So, what you see in the driver’s area is the computer that we add — radar detector, dash cam for the car, the control module for the dash cam goes in the console along with the radio — and all of that gets wired through to where it’s grounded out on the car,” Chief Bratton explained.

“Everything except the radio and the computer is mounted in the car when we take delivery of it,” he said.

Chief Bratton says most of the modifications are done by a company north of Dallas. “They have to be pretty careful about if and when they drill a hole, [they] make sure it’s sealed up properly to prevent anything from the outside getting into the car,” the chief said.

Austin modifies its police SUVs a little differently. A city spokesperson says the vehicles are managed by the city’s fleet services. The SUVs are up-fitted by three different places.

First, Silsbee Ford Dealership in Silsbee, Texas, modifies the SUVs, making them safe for use as police vehicles by turning the backseat into a prisoner transport area, and doing things like modifying the locks.

Then the city’s fleet services adds bumpers and steel to the exterior of the vehicles and the decals to make it look like a police unit. Then the city’s communications and technology management department adds equipment like radios, weapon racks, lights, sirens and dash cams to the SUVs.

Chief Bratton says his department is like many others in the area, closely monitoring what’s happening to the Austin Police Department. He’s having carbon monoxide detectors installed on all the Ford Explorers in his department’s fleet.

“Better to be proactive then to wait until we have a problem and have to scramble and have to figure out what’s going on,” he said.

The Ford Motor Company and The National Highway & Traffic Safety Administration have been in Austin since Monday trying to pinpoint the cause of potential carbon monoxide leaks. More than 60 Austin Police Explorers are out of service for CO concerns.

Both Ford and the NHTSA plan to stay through Thursday, looking at all of the city’s fleet.

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