United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect

Limiting High-Speed Pursuits



Los Angeles Daily News

Drivers should suffer for fleeing from cops

By Rod Bernsen
Guest Columnist 

Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - Think about a story. Every story involves a chase of some sort. Boy chasing girl, sports competition, chasing the dream of a championship, cops chasing bad guys or girls in cars.

Television ratings prove that police pursuits capture the attention of viewers when they are shown live on news -- even ridiculous chases, like the time Los Angeles Police Department SWAT officers walked behind a suspect as the car rolled on slowly downhill. I remember this one because I was reporting it live on television -- trying to explain what the officers were doing and why they were doing it.

Pursuits are real-life dramas that grab hold of the audience: How will it end?

The vast majority of the time, the suspect gives up, hardly dramatic. Still, there is always the chance in every pursuit that there will be a collision or perhaps a shootout -- scenes people usually see on television or at the theaters. But in real life, pursuits have very real consequences and no second takes or do-overs.

According to the California Highway Patrol, which tracks and records all police pursuits statewide, it is rare when an innocent person is killed or seriously injured during the course of the pursuit.

One such innocent person who was killed during a pursuit was a 15-year- old girl named Kristie Priano. In her honor, California State Sens. Sam Aanestad and Gloria Romero have introduced Senate Bill 718, "Kristie's Law."

But nothing in SB 718 increases the penalties for those who run from the police. Nothing in SB 718 would assist police in doing their job. Rather "Kristie's Law" just states the obvious, calling for authorities to "ensure that motor vehicle pursuits can be conducted in the safest and most effective approach throughout California."

The bill begs the question: Do cops even care about safety, their own included? Of course they do.

Here's a radical idea: Instead of sponsoring feel-good legislation, the good senators could actually introduce new laws that put the blame on those who refuse to stop for the police and back it up with severe penalties that could deter those who now run from the cops.

Under current law, it's a misdemeanor or felony to willfully refuse to stop. Change the law. Make refusing to stop a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison and increasing mandatory sentences for suspects who cause any injury or property damage during the course of a pursuit.

The state should also make running from the police a "strike" under the "three strikes, you're out" law. Now that would get the attention of all thinking about engaging the police in a pursuit -- from those who want to be on television to the petty criminal who knows a strike conviction means a long stretch in prison. And if it's the crook's third strike, a conviction of running from the police means 25 years to life.

Let us leave the chase for stories we read or see. Let Sens. Aanestad and Romero do something more valuable than sponsor a new law that is named after an innocent victim but does nothing.

Rod Bernsen is a broadcast journalist and a retired LAPD sergeant. Write to him by e-mail at  roderick.bernsen@verizon.net 


Ukiah Daily Journal

Bill to limit high-speed vehicle pursuits introduced
Second measure would up penalty for fleeing 
By QUINCY CROMER/The Daily Journal 

Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 

For the second year in a row, a bill has been introduced to limit high-speed vehicle pursuits, and discussions about current pursuit policies have been triggered across the state. 

Introduced by Sens. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, and Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, Senate Bill 718 states that it is designed to eliminate unnecessary risks from vehicle pursuits and to ensure that these chases are conducted in the safest and most effective way throughout the state. 

"Kristie's Bill was introduced for a pure and simple reason: to protect the most vulnerable and innocent victims from being injured or killed as a result of a high speed pursuit," Aanestad said after introducing the bill. 

California has consistently led the nation in the past 20 years in fatalities from crashes involving motor vehicle pursuits, according to information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with 59 reported deaths during high-speed pursuits from 2001 to 2003. 

Ukiah Police Department Capt. Dan Walker -- who started with UPD in 1984 -- said he cannot remember any incident where someone was injured or killed during a vehicle pursuit locally. If a new policy regarding vehicle pursuits were enacted in California, Walker said UPD would have to review the law and implement it and change local practices. 

"We would have to see how the law is written and what the policies are and adjust our practices and policies," Walker said. 

The UPD pursuit policy directs officers to weigh the seriousness of the crime, nature of the suspect, safety of the public, weather, traffic and many other conditions when considering pursuit. 

Pursuits are to be terminated when the location of the suspect is no longer known, an officer's vehicle is damaged or if the distance between an officer and the suspect is so great that the pursuit would last for an unreasonable time or distance, according to the policy. 

"Pursuits of suspected or known violators of the law expose innocent citizens, police officers and fleeing violators to serious injury or death," the UPD policy states. "The primary purpose of this policy is to provide officers guidance in balancing the safety of the public and themselves against law enforcement's duty to apprehend violators of the law."

Officers are also instructed to observe the speed of a pursuit for safety reasons and terminate if directed by a supervisor or if other motorists are at risk. 

Directions are also provided for pursuit intervention where an officer can attempt to stop the fleeing suspect by ramming or boxing in the suspect's vehicle. 

According to the California Highway Patrol, of the nearly 6,000 police pursuits reported statewide in 2001, nearly 900 of the pursued vehicles were involved in collisions.

"The vast majority of pursuits usually last under a minute. Sometimes they initiate and break it off or they end in just a few minutes," said Tom Marshall, CHP spokesman. 

The measure is named after Kristie Priano, a 15-year-old Chico student who was killed during a pursuit in January, 2002. The bill has been referred to committees on public safety and rules to examine the impacts of such a measure and may be acted on on or after Saturday. 

Aanestad introduced a similar bill last year restricting high-speed pursuits, but it died in committee after law enforcement agencies argued it was too restrictive. 

"Kristie's Law' supports putting the safety of the public and the officers themselves above catching the fleeing suspect. Policy must be followed because we cannot rely on fleeing suspects who must be punished to the fullest extent of the law to care about safety," the "Kristie's Law" Web site states. 

Aanestad recently met with leaders of statewide law enforcement organizations, asking for support and help to draft the bill by creating comprehensive pursuit policies in California. 

Motor vehicle pursuits present inescapable and inherent risks and it is a primary duty of law enforcement agencies to protect the public from personal injury, death or property damage, SB 718 states. 

"Tragedy often brings about change. Change is difficult for everyone, especially for officers who are trained to make our lives safer. Making our lives safer is what police do and that's why we support the hardworking officers who risk their own lives every day," the "Kristie's Law" Web site states. 

Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia, also introduced a bill related to high-speed vehicle pursuits, but has taken a different approach with his measure. 

Assembly Bill 305 would increase the punishment for intentionally evading or fleeing an officer, making the offense a felony with a sentence of up to four years in state prison and fines up to $2,000, the bill states. 

When a death occurs during a high-speed pursuit, the responsible party could be punished with up to 15 years in state prison. The measure would also impose a one-year enhancement for any person who causes an accident where someone is injured or property is damaged. 

AB 305 was introduced in February and was postponed by committee with Tuesday set as the hearing date for the bill.


Curbs sought in police chases 

By Gary Emerling THE WASHINGTON TIMES Lawmakers in California want to put the brakes on police chases after 51 persons died in 2003 as a result of more than 7,100 pursuits statewide. Eighteen of the dead were uninvolved motorists, according to the California Highway Patrol. The Senate Public Safety Committee last year killed a bill that would have limited police immunity in accidents stemming from high-speed pursuits. A similar plan was reintroduced Wednesday by Republican state Sen. Sam Aanestad, but is meeting resistance from Senate leaders and law-enforcement groups. 

Florida and Mississippi enacted laws last year that increased penalties for fleeing drivers. Police officials in California want the same standards. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show Texas had 33 pursuit deaths in 
2003, including nine uninvolved motorists; North Carolina had 23 deaths, eight of them uninvolved motorists; and Florida had 21 deaths, with one of an uninvolved motorist. NHTSA reported three fatalities in Maryland in 2003, two in Virginia and one in the District as a result of police chases. 

Maryland State Police participated in 141 extended pursuits last year, department spokesman Sgt. Rob Moroney said. In June 2003, Montgomery County police updated a six-page policy that restricts officers to pursuing vehicles only when they think a felony has occurred, or the fugitive driver is under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. County police participated in 67 pursuits last year. "It's our goal to bring people to justice, and we don't want to harm anyone in the process," said Lucille Baur, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman. 

"It's going to have to be a very serious crime or the assurance that that person will commit another serious crime if they get away." In the District, police officers pursue vehicles only when the suspect fleeing poses a threat of serious harm or is thought to have committed or threatened to commit a violent felony, Inspector Kevin Keegan said. Inspector Keegan said 75 vehicular pursuits were reported in the District last year -- 49 classified within the department's policy, eight not complying with policy and 18 pending a decision. Police in Fairfax County participated in 121 pursuits in 
2003 -- 47 of which resulted in crashes but no fatalities. The county's policy states that officers can pursue vehicles that fail to stop for a traffic infraction if "the necessity of apprehension outweighs the level of danger created by the pursuit." .This story is based in part on wire service reports.


Mar. 09, 2005 

Limiting chases brings benefits, some police say 

DON THOMPSON Associated Press 

SACRAMENTO - State and local governments that have limited police pursuits have sharply cut innocent deaths, including in Los Angeles County where high-speed chases had become a staple of the nightly evening news, law enforcement officials said Wednesday. California recorded 7,171 pursuits in 2003 resulting in 51 deaths, 
18 of which were innocent bystanders, according to the most recent statistics from the California Highway Patrol and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The legal immunity that California uniquely grants police when pursuits go wrong has helped make the state by far the national leader in chases, injuries or deaths, said witnesses and legislators at a state Senate Public Safety Committee hearing. Other law enforcement representatives, however, said police should not be held liable for damage caused by a driver who flees, even if the officer violates his department's own pursuit policy. 

The answer, they said, is stiffer penalties for fleeing drivers and an education program that starts when teenagers first learn to drive. 

But Donald Van Blaricom, retired chief of the Bellevue, Wash., police department, said there's "no police practice that is more dangerous to the average citizen than police pursuits." He's an outspoken nationwide advocate for restricting pursuits to violent felons, ending chases for traffic infractions or stolen vehicles. 

Los Angeles County adopted one of the nation's most restrictive pursuit policies in 1998, limiting chases to instances where there has been a felony crime committed, a misdemeanor crime involving a weapon, or suspected drunken drivers who are an obvious road hazard. Before, deputies engaged in about 500 chases a year, a number that dropped by half since the policy was adopted, said Sgt. Wayne Bilowit, the department's legislative advocate. The number increased in the last year with deputies now patrolling more jurisdictions, but the percentage of chases resulting in collisions has dropped to historic lows, and there have been no chase-related fatalities since 

Moreover, the policy has changed the "culture" of the department's chase mentality, Bilowit said. Now, 40 percent of chases are halted even though they fall within department guidelines, and half those decisions are made by the pursuing deputy. 

"The deputies in the field, they get caught up in the adrenalin, they get caught up in the pursuit," Bilowit said. But after eight years living with the new policy, "If it is too dangerous, they are pulling out of the pursuit on their own." State Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, who is pushing for change with "Kristie's Law," named after a 15-year-old innocent victim from Chico, contrasted California with Florida, which has among the most restrictive chase policies. 

Florida had just one innocent bystander die the same year California had 18. No police officers have died in Florida chases the last seven years, while four officers died in California pursuits last year alone. Yet Florida also adopted far stiffer penalties for fleeing, countered California Highway Patrol Capt. Scott Howland. Under California law, evading an officer and misusing a handicapped placard carry the same penalty - and misusing the placard requires a higher bail. California law enforcement associations are promoting legislation that would boost sentences and make it clear the fleeing driver - not the police officer - is liable if anyone else is injured or killed.

"When an officer makes a bad decision, it still is ultimately the suspect who's fleeing," said Howland, reflecting comments by other law enforcement organization representatives. "I don't feel law enforcement should be responsible for the actions of a criminal." Van Blaricom, the retired Washington chief, said stiffer penalties won't deter drivers who flee in the heat of the moment. And he said California has an appropriate chase policy that is often violated because officers know they are immune from civil liability under a unique 1998 law. 

"The real policy is to chase anybody that runs from you, because there are no consequences," Van Blaricom said. Aanestad's effort to end that immunity died in a Senate committee last year, and law enforcement organizations said they would fight any similar attempt this year. Aanestad, Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and Public Safety Committee Chair Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, all said they will seek compromise legislation this year to help rein in innocent deaths. 

ON THE NET Read SB317, SB718, SB719 and SB1015 at  www.sen.ca.gov  Kristie's Web site:  www.kristieslaw.org  PursuitWatch: http://pursuitwatch.org

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