Ford Motor Co. senior management has rejected calls by some of the carmaker’s employees to abandon the police vehicle market in the face of the systemic brutality that has triggered more than a month of unrest across America.
One letter circulated by Ford employees called on the company to “cease” both the development and production of vehicles like the carmaker’s Explorer-based Police Interceptor. Ford products currently account for about two-thirds of the U.S. law enforcement market. Such concerns have also been raised by as many as 100 Ford employees in virtual town halls and in correspondence with senior executives.
But a statement sent to TheDetroitBureau.com Friday indicated Ford does not plan to pull out of the market. “We are proud Ford vehicles are the first choice of first responders, including with police,” it said, adding that, “We will continue to support these customers because good law enforcement agencies and officers play a critical positive role in our communities, but safety and equal treatment must be inclusive of all, everywhere.”
The internal dispute was triggered by the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of police, which has since been ruled a homicide. Prosecutors in Minneapolis have now charged four officers in connection with the handling of Floyd’s arrest.
That incident, which followed the death of numerous other black citizens during police stops and arrests, set off a blazing response, cities across the country quickly experiencing demonstrations – and, in some cases, riots and looting. Some cities are continuing to face nightly rallies.
The death of Floyd has also led to a broader national discussion of systemic discrimination, while also triggering a political schism ahead of this year’s presidential election.
Detroit’s automakers, often loathe to enter such a highly charged debate, entered the fray early. General Motors quickly announced plans to donate $10 million to groups promoting racial justice and social inclusion, including the NAACP. Ford Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett issued a public statement June 2 declaring that the carmaker “cannot turn a blind eye to it or accept some sense of ‘order’ that’s based on oppression.”
That encouraged employees to debate whether Ford should be serving the law enforcement community. The automaker produces a number of product variants for police and other agencies and has come up with solutions to address the unique problems officers might face. It recently developed modifications that it said could be used to reduce the risk of officers becoming infected by the coronavirus, the system briefly heating the interior to a temperature believed to kill the virus.
But not all Ford employees are pleased with Ford’s ties to law enforcement. A letter circulated by some, and first obtained by technology website The Verge, called on the company to “cease development, production, and sale of all custom police vehicles and products.”
Others are proposing alternatives, calling on the company to sell vehicles only to law enforcement agencies that have undergone reforms. Another proposal would see Ford equip all police vehicles with automatically activating cameras.
For his part, CEO Hackett sent out a company-wide e-mail earlier this month in which he stated, “there is no room for the systemic repression and racism that have been exhibited by law enforcement encounters gone wrong. We’ve said clearly that Black Lives Matter and I am personally driving a review of our Diversity and Inclusion rituals, practices and behaviors. We do believe strongly that more transparency and accountability is required in police operations.”
But the lengthy e-mail also made it clear Ford won’t walk away from its police business. Law enforcement officers, it added, “play an extraordinarily important role in the vitality and safety of our society. Our world wouldn’t function without the bravery and dedication of the good police officers who protect and serve.”