For camera-ready pictures
of Kristie, click here.


 

Public safety first: How fortunate for law-abiding citizens in California that Senator Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, is bravely stepping out to change the culture of police vehicular pursuits. Kristie's Law will save the lives of innocent bystanders and officers.

A ruling
by California's Fourth Appellate Court


"The law in its current state simply grants a 'get out of liability free card' to public entities [law enforcement agencies, cities and towns] that go through the formality of adopting a policy. The adoption of a policy, which may never be implemented, is cold comfort to innocent victims. We do not know if the policy was followed in this instance, and that is precisely the point: We will never know because defendant [police] did not have to prove [that they] followed the policy. ... We urge the Legislature to revisit this statute and seriously reconsider the balance between public entity immunity and public safety. The balance appears to have shifted too far toward immunity and left public safety twisting in the wind."

-- An Excerpt from a Ruling by California's Fourth Appellate Court
on a case where a pedestrian was killed during a pursuit in a California high school parking lot.


Too many Police Pursuit Policies gather dust on shelves  

Public awareness and pressure paved the way for safer weapon and firearm policies; so eventually, the way officers conduct police vehicular pursuits will change.  If law enforcement does not make the change on its own, the public must turn to its legislators because too many people are being killed, maimed and injured.  And too many of these people are the innocent.

Since the State of California provided complete immunity to police agencies that adopt a four criteria pursuit policy, without requiring that the policy be followed, California has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in police pursuit deaths and the toll promises to continue ever higher until there is statutory intervention, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association's fatality reports on pursuits.

Unfortunately, the California Highway Patrol has been the greatest advocate of not restricting police pursuits and, not surprisingly, the other California law enforcement agencies have followed that lead to lobby against any legislation that would curtail their "right" to pursue at any price.

However, in recent years some California law enforcement agencies have restrictive policies for high-speed police driving and chases. But that's not good enough.  Policies are useless if they aren't followed.

Kristie's Law is about improving safety, not only for the public's protection but for the officers' as well.  California needs this law to prevent such tragedies from happening again and again.  Let's not wait for another tragic crash to happen before passing a law to prevent it.

Training our officers is also critical.  Good officers evaluate a situation before they even "light up" a vehicle.  In many cases, there is no need for the Split-Second myth.  Officers can get the tags and call them in first before attempting to pull over a person.  This simple procedure gives officers an idea of whom they are dealing with and a heads up as to whether the driver might flee.

In his book "Police Pursuits: What We Know," Dr. Geoffrey Alpert, who conducted the Department of Justice study and chairs the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, states, "Officers must continually question whether the seriousness of the crime justifies continuing the pursuit.  The immediate apprehension of the violator is never more important than the safety of innocent persons or the officers themselves."

In his book "Police Pursuits: What We Know," Dr. Geoffrey Alpert, who conducted the Department of Justice study and chairs the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, states, "Officers must continually question whether the seriousness of the crime justifies continuing the pursuit.  The immediate apprehension of the violator is never more important than the safety of innocent persons or the officers themselves."

Many law enforcement officials argue that chasing the bad guys keeps the public safe, but according to Alpert, only 10 percent of all pursuits involve violent felons who put the public in imminent danger, leaving 90 percent for traffic offenses and nonviolent crimes that pose little or no threat to the public unless pursued.  In addition, these suspects are often back on the streets within hours or days.

"Every law enforcement CEO should put public safety above the need to lock up someone," says Chief Steven H. Jones, Orange County Florida Sheriff's Department.  "If their jurisdiction is like Florida, the arrested offender will probably be home before the officer completes his paperwork.  Our local critics said if we quit chasing stolen cars that our numbers would skyrocket.  Guess what?  When we quit chasing stolen vehicles, our arrest and recovery rate went way up because we thought 'out of the box.'  No more chases, no more damaged cars, no more injuries, and no deaths!"

Alpert agrees with Jones and adds, "Research debunks these two popular myths:  There is a dead body in every trunk and restricting pursuits will cause more people to flee."

With a growing number of officers pushing for restrictive pursuit policies, the day will come when law enforcement officials no longer repeat this mantra:  "If we had not chased, the suspect MIGHT have gone on to kill or injure someone else."

Innocent victims of pursuits are the "someone else" the police need to protect and serve.  Retired Washington State Police Chief Donald Van Blaricom puts it in perspective when he says: "There is no reason to believe a greater loss would occur from taking less risk.  These citizens do not volunteer to be rolling roadblocks for police."

Van Blaricom and other pursuit experts believe a California law giving absolute immunity to police agencies that adopt a four criteria pursuit policy, without requiring that the policy be followed, is why California leads the nation in pursuit-related deaths.  NHTSA reports that 52 people were killed in California pursuits in 2001; 24 of these people were not even in a car being pursued, and some — especially the children — in the fleeing cars were just as innocent.

 
 

... More from around the Nation and the World

What's the point? California law enforcement agencies must adopt a pursuit policy, but officers do not need to follow that policy.

(If the Chico, California, Police Officers and the command supervisor had followed their own pursuit policy, Kristie Priano would be alive today, attending classes at Chico State!  Instead, her family and friends can only envision all the future that was lost and place flowers on Kristie's grave.)

POLICE say agents' parolee chase was against city policy
San Francisco Chronicle - San Francisco, CA, July 21, 2004
... policy would call for me to terminate that pursuit,'' Panighetti testified... 17.  Panighetti said endangering San Jose residents with a high-speed chase wasn't ...
 
For the rest of the story, click here.

POLICE policy questioned
Dallas Morning News - Dallas, TX,  Aug. 23, 2004
By JASON TRAHAN. Josephine Martinez doesn't care what the Dallas Police Department's policy on high-speed chases is. ... This story is no longer posted on the web.


PUBLIC debates patrol's decision
Savannah Morning News - Savannah,GA Aug. 23, 2004
... were killed in a Nissan Pathfinder Tuesday morning after a high-speed chase ended ... as allowed by patrol policy - and executed a pursuit intervention technique ...
This story is no longer posted on the web.

CRASH prompts police chase fears
BBC News - London, England, UK  Aug. 23, 2004
... chief constable to review the force's policy on such chases, after two teenagers died outside the National Ice Centre during a high speed police pursuit. 
For the rest of the story, click here. 

DANGEROUS pursuits
Carolina Morning News - Beaufort, SC  Aug. 21, 2004
By Stephanie Ingersoll. Most local law enforcement agencies say they've put the brakes on high speed chases because the pursuits are just too risky. ..
. For the rest of the story, click here.

 

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