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Back to Archives | Back to August 2010 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

Trunk Packing: A Matter of Officer Survival

By Richard J. Ashton, Chief of Police (Retired), Frederick, Maryland; and Grant/Technical Management Manager, IACP

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hose officers assigned to fleet cruisers often are frustrated, to say the least, when they pop their cruisers’ trunks at crash scenes to find no road flares. More often than not, they see, untethered, such motley items as crowbars, fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, jacks, loose ammunition, measuring devices, shovels, shotguns, and tire irons. They may or may not complain to their supervisors, who may or may not address the issue. However, regardless of the supervisors’ responses, this situation undoubtedly will recur.

Regrettably, this state of affairs has existed for decades and is not perceived by law enforcement as especially serious. As a matter of fact, 85 percent of 80 law enforcement agencies surveyed by the Arizona Department of Public Safety in October 2002 had not promulgated guidelines for packing equipment in the trunks of their cruisers. However, improper trunk packing jeopardizes officers’ safety and is directly related to their survival.

Investigations of the tragic deaths of at least 14 law enforcement officers in the fiery, high-speed, high-impact rear-end collisions involving Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors (CVPIs) and its peer vehicle, the discontinued Chevrolet Caprice, between 1993 and 20022 identified unsafe trunk-packing as the cause or a contributing factor in two-thirds of these deaths.3 Ford developed its optional Trunk Pack to mitigate the risk of necessary equipment items puncturing and igniting CVPI fuel tanks when they are stored laterally as opposed to longitudinally. It also provides a free Police Interceptor Equipment Mounting Guide, as well as Police Interceptor Modifier Guides for 2008, 2009, and 2010 CVPIs, to assist with the proper and safe installation of aftermarket equipment (see figure 1).

Figure 1Ford’s Guide to Trunk Loading:

Ford’s Equipment Mounting Guide:

Ford’s Modifiers Guides:

Upfitting is a major issue, particularly for those agencies that outsource their cruisers locally for modification. Agencies often depend on well-intentioned local businesses to tailor new cruisers to the agencies’ needs. Unfortunately, not every upfitter possesses the expertise necessary to properly install the requisite items, which can lead to subsequent problems. For example, a CVPI owned by the Powell, Ohio, Police Department burned on March 28, 2005. An investigation revealed that a sheet-metal mounting screw used to secure an aftermarket power source had pierced the Ford wiring harness; and that the wiring harness itself had been detached, moved, and not reattached. The aftermarket installer had mounted the power source in the “No Fasteners Allowed” area of the aforementioned equipment mounting guide.4 Agencies must ensure that items in cruisers’ trunks are affixed firmly and secured with fasteners strong enough to withstand crashes, so sharp-edged metal from flimsy clasps installed with inadequate bolts, nuts, or screws cannot puncture fuel system components.

Despite these recommendations to minimize trunk problems, Murphy’s Law sometimes still prevails. Traditional road flares pose a fire danger when they are carried inappropriately in cruisers’ trunks.5 For example, uncapped and improperly stored flares ignited in the trunks of Tucson, Arizona, police cruisers twice in a period of 15 days in 2003.6 Moreover, the cruiser in which Torrance, California, police officers Mark Athan and Hector Bermudez were riding on November 6, 2002, exploded in flames after it was struck in the rear at a red traffic signal by a suspected intoxicated driver. Fortunately, Officer Athan was able to rescue his unconscious partner.7 The preliminary findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that the force of the impact caused a 24-inch crowbar stored in the CVPI’s trunk to rupture the wall of the trunk and travel all the way through its fuel tank.8

Ford commands 75 percent of the police car market.9 Even though the CVPI will be retired after the 2011 model year and replaced by a new, purpose-built Police Interceptor, it will be used by law enforcement well into the future, especially in light of the economic constraints under which agencies currently are operating. Therefore, agencies need to ensure that their officers are provided with the best equipment and that officers use it safely. While many situations arise during officers’ careers over which they regrettably have little or no control, driving cruisers with improperly packed trunks should never be one of them.

Forty-one percent more officers were killed accidentally than feloniously (746 versus 530) between 1999 and 2008,10 and 66 percent of those killed accidentally in that decade (492 officers) died in automobile and motorcycle crashes.11 Officers must remain ever cognizant that the autopsies of two Florida Highway Patrol troopers and four Arizona law enforcement officers killed in the aforementioned fiery, high-speed, high-impact rear-end collisions revealed that they had sustained non–life threatening injuries, but they had succumbed to the fires that engulfed their cruisers. 12 Remember, improper trunk packing was the cause or a contributing factor in two-thirds of these 14 deaths.

All officers need to be taught to safely stow essential items of equipment in their cruisers’ trunks, and supervisors thereafter need to hold accountable those they lead daily by conducting regular and frequent inspections of cruisers’ trunks and by immediately initiating corrective action when any deviation from a safe practice is identified. Improper trunk packing is a serious officer safety issue and a matter of officer survival; proactive responses can reduce the number of preventable, accidental officer deaths and injuries. ■


1Ford Motor Company, “ADPS Police Practices Survey,” (accessed June 6, 2010).
2The Center for Auto Safety, “MY 1992-2001 Ford Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car, Mercury Grand Marquis Fatal Fire Crashes, 1993-2002,” (accessed June 9, 2010).
3Ford’s Director of Design Analysis Brian Geraghty, facsimile to the author, June 13, 2003.
4Mr. Geraghty, director of Design and Analysis Office of Ford Motor Company, summarized the investigation at the June 22, 2005, meeting of the IACP Law Enforcement Stops and Safety Subcommittee (LESSS).
5Dr. Charlie Mesloh et al., Evaluation of Chemical and Electric Flares, report to the National Institute of Justice, Document No. 224277 (2008), 10, (accessed June 5, 2010).
6Jeff Corey et al., “Tucson Arizona Flare Experiment,” SWAFS Journal 25, no. 2 ( July 2003): 27–34.
7Larry Altman, “Torrance Police Officer Saves Partner from Blazing Car,” Daily Breeze, November 8, 2002, (accessed June 6, 2010).
8Patrick A. Shortall and Frank S. Borris, “Preliminary Findings Announced in Review of Torrance Police Ford Crown Victoria Patrol Car Fire,” press release, Torrance Police Department and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, November 25, 2002, 1.
9Brent Snavely, “Ford Confirms New Patrol Car Will Replace Crown Vic in 2011,” Detroit Free Press, reprinted on, November 16, 2009, -car-will-replace-Crown-Vic-in-2011 (accessed June 5, 2010).
10Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2008, October 2009, table 1, (accessed June 11, 2010); FBI, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2008, October 2009, table 48, (accessed June 11, 2010).
11FBI, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2008, October 2009, table 63, (accessed June 11, 2010).
12Lieutenant James D. Wells Jr., “Rear End Collision Study—1999,” July 26, 1999, and September 16, 1999, revision, 5 and 19; minutes of September 10–11, 2003, LESSS meeting, 1.

Please cite as:

Richard J. Ashton, "Trunk Packing: A Matter of Officer Survival," The Police Chief 77 (August 2010): 136-138, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 8, August 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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