Police departments have always stressed the locking of cruisers and are reinforcing that rule.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Who would question the presence of an ambulance parked, well, anywhere?
That's why, in this new era of heightened security, those who respond to emergency situations, especially ambulance crews, now lock their vehicles.
The security measure will prevent ambulances from being commandeered by terrorists, filled with explosives and parked innocuously at the emergency room entrance of a hospital, near the steps of a courthouse and so forth.
Nationwide alert: The FBI issued a nationwide alert this week advising police, firefighters and ambulance companies that attempts could be made to use the vehicles -- including police helicopters -- in a terrorist act. The warning came about a week after terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and aimed them like missiles at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
"We've told the guys not to leave them running or the keys inside when they take patients into a hospital," said Robin D'Angelo, dispatch supervisor at Lane LifeTrans in Austintown.
"We never had a theft problem before, never had to worry about it, but now with the alert, we're being cautious about an ulterior motive."
Sheriff's department: Things have changed at the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department, too. Deputies at emergency scenes often left their cruisers unlocked, sometimes with the engine running. "That is prohibited now," said Maj. Michael Budd. "We are being more cautious, too, about where we're parking the cruisers. The lot at the jail here is secure; it's fenced in."
Budd said the cars are fitted with an anti-theft device but declined to say how it works.
"We pretty much always locked the cruisers. It's been a hard-and-fast rule," said Austintown Police Chief Gordon L. Ellis. "Now, we have a heightened sense of securing them."
When not in use, the cruisers are kept in a secure lot at the police station, he said.
"We lock them every time we go on a call," said Sgt. John Ondomisi, a turn commander at the Youngstown Police Department. "We follow the rules and regulations."
Ondomisi noted that the cruisers have always been locked when officers get out of them because of the shotguns carried inside.
Most police departments' cruisers are outfitted with shotguns.
Lock policy: "A lot of our guys at an accident scene will leave the car running but lock it and have a spare key. They need the headlights on to see and be seen," said Lt. Brian Girts, commander of the Ohio State Highway Patrol post in Canfield. "Our policy calls for you to lock the car as you exit it."
Troopers standing near their cruisers while directing traffic sometimes leave it unlocked, he said. Anywhere else, they lock it.