by Candy Priano
August 27, 2005
I wish I could support law enforcement's legislation on police vehicular pursuits. Unfortunately for all of us in California, SB 719 is not the bill—and definitely not the law—that will save the lives of innocent bystanders or peace officers. SB 719 is simply a weak counter proposal to Kristie's Law.
I am an innocent victim of a pursuit. As a result of that unnecessary chase in 2002, I buried my loving, law-abiding daughter, Kristie. After comparing the police report of the crash with the Chico Police Department's pursuit policy, it is obvious that the officers and the command supervisor violated their own agency's pursuit policy.
I blame the fleeing teenager who took her mother's RAV4 without permission. I even blame her two friends: one helped take the car, and the other got into the car as the supervising officer was talking on the phone to her mother.
I do not blame all of law enforcement.
I do blame California's outdated pursuit policies and practices for the death of my innocent daughter. I remember one of my mother's favorite sayings: "Two wrongs do not make it right."
I have repeated this saying numerous times in the past three years. My point: Of course, the teenage girl was wrong, as are all people who flee from the police. But after comparing Chico's pursuit policy with the police report of the crash, I know Kristie would be alive today if the officers and the command supervisor had followed their pursuit policy. Once they decided this known teenager, they had just as much to do with the outcome of this chase as the teenage girl.
We need pursuit policies and practices that help our officers, not hinder them. Officers need to know they will be held accountable if they fail to follow their own policy. When we are held accountable by our employers, we do a better job. When we know someone is watching us, we do it right.
I do not know how the officers involved in this deadly chase feel because they have never talked to me. I imagine they feel awful about what happened to my family. They truly know, more than anyone, what really happened that night. If California had pursuit policies and practices that put public safety first, these officers would not even know my name because they would not have to carry the burden that they do today: Partial responsibility for the death of an innocent, law-abiding child.
So, after reading SB 719, I asked: Would this proposed legislation have saved Kristie's life or the lives of other innocent victims? The answer is "No."
Is SB 719 a preventative measure that will reduce the number of deaths to future innocent victims of pursuit? Again, the answer is "No."
Law enforcement's legislation is missing "key" criteria to save lives. Among those key criteria is ACCOUNTABILITY when pursuit policies and guidelines are breached.
Law enforcement's legislation has no teeth. Although it contains legislative findings concerning the danger of pursuits, there is no language in this bill to actually change California's current pursuit practices. Let's take a look at a few of the "changes" in SB 719:
1. Regarding the requirement that all agencies must have a pursuit policy. So what? Current state law already requires all law enforcement agencies to have a pursuit policy in order for that agency (public entity) to receive blanket immunity from civil liability.
2. Blanket immunity even when the policy is not followed. No Change! The bill adds the following to "limit" blanket immunity: training (which is done now) and the officers must "promulgate" or read the policy. This reform actually implies that currently officers do not read their own pursuit policy.
Geoffrey Alpert, a nationally recognized expert on pursuit practices, commented on this legislation via email. He stated, "Specifically, the bill does not require testing or certification for officers. It simply says officers should 'read and sign' the policy. There is no mention of policy review at the state level."
3. The bill adds a number of pursuit guidelines, but nowhere in the bill does it say the officers MUST FOLLOW these guidelines or that law enforcement agencies will be held accountable if officers fail to follow the guidelines.
4. I have always supported stricter penalties, but this bill does not go far enough. The penalties should be stricter, and an innocent person or officer should not have to die or be injured in order for the suspect to be imprisoned.
After reading SB 719 a number of times, I am totally appalled at how the people of California are being deceived into believing that suspects will be greatly penalized for fleeing if SB 719 becomes law. Law enforcement and Senator Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, have stated that this bill fixes California's penalties for suspects who flee. Stricter penalties in SB 719 are an insult to innocent victims and officers. Take a look at this analysis of the actual bill.
5. Restitution to innocent victims of pursuit. Again, this is not a change. In 2002, my family received financial help for funeral and burial expenses from a state-run victims' fund. Family members, who have had innocent loved ones killed in pursuits prior to 2002, have told me that they, too, have received the same restitution from state funds that SB 719 proposes to do.
In fact, there's also some irony regarding restitution to innocent victims. At the 2004 Public Safety Hearing on Kristie's Law, Senator Romero was very clear that the issue was about officers following their pursuit policies and that families who have had innocent loved ones killed in pursuits "do not want money."
Agreeing with Romero's 2004 comment is Jim Phillips, President of PursuitWatch, a national organization that monitors police pursuits.
Phillips posts this comment on his Web site: "In a misguided notion that victims seek financial liability from agencies, the bill provides for pay-outs from the California Restitution Fund for pursuit victims. Victims and their families do not seek restitution -- they seek accountability. Restitution is for stolen camcorders, not for families who have had innocent loved ones killed in unnecessary pursuits."
Any reader of this bill will need a magnifying glass to see the "changes" being made to California's outdated and deadly pursuit practices.
This bill is not preventative. Families of innocent victims say it is hard to find the justification to chase someone for a minor offense when weighed against the dangers of high-speed chases. And yet, there are still too many law enforcement agencies that allow chases at all cost, even when the officers KNOW they can catch these suspects later. See also Deadly Chases and Battle lines are drawn over Kristie's law.
Because of Kristie's Law, California has received national attention about leading the nation in the number of innocent people killed in pursuits. Consequently, under the direction of law enforcement, our state legislators are now passing legislation that is simply window dressing to deceive the people of California and allows a law enforcement agency to do anything it pleases. Law enforcement has always wanted to keep the Legislature out of this issue, but with so much pressure coming because of Kristie's Law, they had to come up with another plan and that plan was putting forth meaningless legislation.
Kristie's Law was the only legislation in 2004 and 2005 that offered the citizens of California an immediate means to reduce the number of deaths and injuries to innocent bystanders and officers. Kristie's Law is NOT about penalizing or hampering the police. It is about preventing unnecessary tragedies from happening to other innocent, law-abiding people.
Without question, victims of pursuit blame the people who flee; but the burden to protect and serve the innocent, by necessity, falls on the officers who must not only have a pursuit policy but must follow it. It is a proven fact that deaths and injuries from high-speed chases are greatly reduced when officers are required to follow their policies.
As I said on CNN's morning show, California needs policies with some teeth. Law enforcement agencies must not only have to adopt a pursuit policy but agencies must be held accountable when the policies are breached.
Analysis by PursuitWatch & How the Senators voted on Kristie's Law
Please note: In spite of political threats from law enforcement lobbyist and associations that he will lose his next Senate race, Senator Sam Aanestad has never wavered in his efforts to put public safety first, ahead of his own political ambitions. Read more.