updated 3/21/2005 7:52:23 PM ET 2005-03-22T00:52:23

Police departments across Illinois that joined a class-action lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. claiming the company's Crown Victoria Interceptors were unsafe are now dropping out of the suit after the automaker told them that was the only way it would keep selling them the cars.

The departments say the move makes sense — in part because switching to another make of vehicle would cost them tens of thousands of dollars and because they want to keep driving the vehicle favored by an overwhelming number of law enforcement agencies across the country.

“Ford has people on the ropes on this issue,” said Richard Flood, an attorney representing eight departments in McHenry County and one in Kane County that want out of the lawsuit.

Jim Feeney, an attorney for Ford, said the automaker is not trying to force the departments to do anything except decide if they really want to sue the company.

“The bottom line is either they are serious about the lawsuit and the claims in the lawsuit or they're not,” he said. “If you think the vehicle is unsafe — we don't — but if you do, don't expect us to supply you vehicles.”

In all, Feeney said approximately 120 police agencies across the state have dropped out of the lawsuit and dozens more have filed motions to do the same.

The Crown Victoria police cars have been at the center of legal battles around the country since 2002 when municipalities started filing lawsuits claiming that the vehicles explode too easily in rear collisions. Since 1983, at least 15 police officers nationwide have died in fiery crashes after their Crown Victorias were rear ended.

The first class-action lawsuit over the Crown Victoria to go to trial was in Belleville, and in October, a federal jury there ruled that the cars were safe. A judge in the case still has to decide if the automaker violated state consumer fraud laws, and Feeney said he expects an appeal of the jury's decision. Trisha Murphy, an attorney involved in the case, did not immediately return calls by The Associated Press.

While Ford implemented its no-sale policy in 2003 when the lawsuit was certified as a class action, Feeney said he suspects departments are now scrambling to be dropped from the lawsuit because this is the first time since then they have tried to buy cars.

“Now it's two years later and they're looking to replace their fleets and all of a sudden they're becoming aware of the fact they can't buy any cars,” he said.

That's what happened in Rolling Meadows. Deputy Police Chief Dave Scanlan said he didn't even know his department was part of the lawsuit because he never saw the letter that informed the city that it would be included unless it expressly declined.

“Whoever got it, ignored it and we were in,” he said.

He and the rest of the department found out about it when it was time to buy more squad cars. “We woke up and Ford wouldn't sell us any Crown Vics,” he said.

Scanlan said it was not a tough decision to drop out of the lawsuit, saying that the department is satisfied with the Crown Victoria and Ford.

Others, though, don't like the way Ford has treated them.

“Ford decided they were going to punish people and not sell you the cars,” said Flood.

At least one community, Northlake, decided to convert its small fleet from Crown Victorias to Chevrolet Impalas.

“It just rubs me the wrong way that they can try and push everybody around,” said Mayor Jeffrey Sherwin.

Not only that, when it comes time to replace a public works department pickup truck this year, Northlake won't be buying another Ford. Further, he said, “When we replace our dump truck, we won't buy a Ford,” he said.

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