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California State Senate Judiciary Committee
Candy Priano's Testimony
April 27, 2004

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger repeated one word during his campaign. That word is "accountability." I have read numerous reports on the topic of police pursuit since my innocent daughter Kristie was killed in a Chico pursuit where officers disregarded guidelines in their own pursuit policy. 

In an Illinois report, a retired police chief writes: "Perhaps the most important and most frequently missing component of the four areas for control of police pursuits is the accountability factor. This is difficult to understand because the absence of accountability clearly demonstrates to all concerned that policy, training and supervision are meaningless when there are no consequences for ignoring them. If, for instance, officers were not held accountable for compliance with their firearm policies, does anyone doubt that we would have many more bad shootings? The fact is that police pursuits seriously injure and kill far more innocent third parties than a bullet from an officers' firearm. Officers are strictly prohibited from firing into a crowd, but they are routinely given the latitude to pursue a stolen car through urban streets against traffic control devices until a collision terminates the chase." 

Two weeks ago, I shared with the Public Safety Committee the issue of public safety in police pursuit.  I expressed my belief that law enforcement does care about the victims of police pursuits, but I was surprised when the officer associations opposed SB 1866, claiming:

  1. The criminals will get away, and
  2. taxpayers will pay for because of litigation claims against cities and counties.

Regarding the first concern, I have learned that officers can catch " the bad guys" without pursuits; these officers are just doing their job in a more sophisticated way: a safer way. 

On Jan. 20, 2004, the news headline read: "Police Quit Chase and Still Make Arrest." In the story Lt. Chris Davis of the Temecula PD said: "I would like to think the pursuit would have been cancelled regardless.  It would have been a poor decision to continue to chase the vehicle when we could identify the driver."

On April 12, a Channel 3 news broadcast from Palm Springs reported that some state police have come out against the bill.  But Cpl. Dennis Gutierrez of the Riverside County Sheriffs Depart. said, "If the bill does pass, it won't stop us from catching the bad guys.  We can put out a warrant, we can pick them up at their home, they have families in the area."

On April 21, Sunnyvale Lt. George McCloskey sent me an email which read, "Just last week we had a pursuit begin in Sunnyvale, only to be terminated by the initiating officer shortly after he was able to determine that the costs outweighed the benefits of the chase. The officer was able to obtain a license plate and do it differently, perhaps saving a life in the meantime. I cannot say that his actions were totally related to our recent training where you and Mark talked to our officers about pursuit from a victims' perspective; however, if we reached just one officer and prevented just one tragedy, we have done our job as Law Enforcement Trainers! "

The topic of police pursuit is a volatile issue within law enforcement agencies, so I asked the Lt. if I could use his email at this hearing. 

His response: "Please use the email in your testimony and mention that during your presentation to our Department that the overwhelming response from line-level officers, supervisors, and command staff is one of support for safer apprehension of criminals, and the public. The way we do our jobs is determined by the public we serve, and it is our responsibility to deliver the best service with their safety in mind. No one wants to be involved in a tragedy, and no criminal is worth catching if others are hurt or killed in the process.  For a law enforcement manager to cling to tools of the past, negates the ingenuity and dedication of those who now perform the law enforcement role with distinction."

In sharp contrast to the Sunnyvale story, the following story was posted at 8:26 a.m. on April 24, 2004:  The CHP reported Saturday night that a Solano County Sheriff Deputy was the victim of a fatal crash while pursuing a speeding vehicle.  As the sheriff's vehicle exited a curve in the road the vehicle's right tire entered the dirt on the edge of the roadway and hit a large rock, overturning the patrol unit.  The deputy who was driving was ejected and thrown into a water-filled ditch.  The deputy succumbed to his injuries at the hospital, and his passenger suffered minor injuries.

And this brings me to the second reason why officer associations and the Attorney General's Office are opposed to SB 1866:  Litigation costs and the taxpayers will pay.

I can tell you the death of a loved one killed in a preventable tragedy is immeasurable. My Kristie was a special gift from God. She was an honor student, a class officer, an athlete, and most important, a loving daughter and devoted sister. She was a law-abiding citizen and a community volunteer. Kristie will always be remembered for her tireless work at the Chico Creek Nature Center where she fed and took care of injured animals in Bidwell Park. She was always ready to volunteer for any worthwhile project in the community and was just a month away from her first mission trip to care for children in an orphanage in Costa Rica.  

But if officer associations want to look at cost, I will share with them that two insurance companies paid more than $200,000 each for medical expenses and other compensation (counseling services, on-going medical expenses, etc.) because we asked the doctors to do whatever they needed to do to save our daughter, that a third insurance company paid $60,000 and another $15,000. Two totaled vehicles came to about $50,000, and burial expenses were $20,000. I was unable to go back to work for four months and then I returned on a very limited part-time basis. About two months after Kristie was killed, I was again taken to the hospital because I kept calling out for Kristie and didn't believe my husband when he told me Kristie was dead. Because of my absence, a temporary employee was hired to fill in. I too work for the State of California, so the state paid for that cost and I collected sick leave benefits.  Both my family and the City of Chico hired attorneys. My understanding is that the city hired a very expensive attorney before we even filed our lawsuit against the city, so there were litigation costs. 

Now for this sheriff's deputy who was just killed.  The deputy's family and friends are just beginning to process their loss. Again, it's immeasurable. The Department of General Services can tell you how much a patrol car costs, a conservative estimate is $35,000, but make/model, types of equipment (computers, lights, decals, paint scheme) can dramatically increase the cost.  Survivors benefits to family members of officers killed in the line of duty need to be paid.  I don't know the amounts or the full extent of these benefits. There may also be some educational benefits for the surviving children of such officers. The cost of injured officers is probably captured by individual agencies, but it may also be reported to the State Department of Industrial Relations. Incarceration for those who flee and end up killing an innocent victim and court costs vary for many reasons.  So I hope the Attorney Governor's Office now realizes that the taxpayers are paying (pause) and many of us taxpayers are paying too high a price for unnecessary police pursuits. 

Had the Chico police followed their own pursuit policy, there would have been no insurance claims to file and no litigation because there would not have been a pursuit. According to the Chico policy, since officers knew the identity and address of the juvenile they could have caught her later -- similar to what Temecula PD and the Sunnyvale officer did. Instead officers chased the girl at high speeds through 100 percent residential with narrow street and poor visibility at night. 

Since California leads the nation in the number of innocent victims killed, maimed, and injured in pursuits, I urge law enforcement to collaborate with Senator Aanestad by providing information that will make SB 1866 the means to prevent a new generation of innocent victims of pursuits. 

In closing, Chief Steven Jones of the Orange County (Florida) Sheriff's Department says it perfectly: "Our 'jobs' are to make our streets as safe as possible, not the opposite. Law enforcement agencies need to answer one question:  Is it worth the lives and safety of our officers and citizens to chase traffic offenders? ... Several years ago we updated our policy to discontinue pursuits of stolen vehicles. Many complained that it opened the door for car thieves to escape justice and more cars would be stolen.  In fact, just the opposite happened.  Stolen car crashes went to zero and our capture rate soared sky-high!  We simply re-evaluated the old way of catching criminals and started 'Auto Trap.'  The police mentality that the bad guys will always run if they know that we can't pursue is nonsense!  We disproved that theory years before when we decided not to pursue traffic offenders." 

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