Our family supports law enforcement, but our experience has led us to seek changes in our state's police pursuit law. I have talked to many officers who support restrictive pursuit policies because they believe innocent bystanders should not be getting killed so they can catch "the bad guys." These officers still do their job. They just do it in a different way -- a safer way.
On November 26, 2002, in deciding a case where a pedestrian was killed during a pursuit through
a California high school parking lot, the judges of the Fourth Appellate Court expressed their displeasure with the current state law governing police pursuits. The judges said, "The adoption of a policy, which may never be implemented, is cold comfort to innocent bystanders. We do not know if the policy was followed in this instance, and that is precisely the point: The police did not have to prove that they followed their 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."
After seeing Kristie's story on The John Walsh Show, Retired Washington State Police Chief Donald Van Blaricom sent us a letter. He wrote, "Since California provided complete immunity to police agencies that adopt a four criteria pursuit policy, without requiring that the policy be followed, your state 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 -- best wishes in your important efforts with Kristie's Law."
The Chief was recently asked to write a report for Illinois law enforcement following the death of an innocent young woman who was standing on a street corner in downtown Chicago. She was struck and killed by a car whose occupants were being pursued for stealing a wallet. Her small lifeless body was thrown 40 feet. In his report, the Chief addresses this myth about police pursuit: "If officers don't chase, someone else might get killed." He responds: "There is no reason to believe a greater loss would occur from taking less risk," and the Chief has been quoted in newspapers, saying, "Citizens do not volunteer to be rolling roadblocks for police." For me, Kristie's death is real, unlike this "someone else" I keep hearing about.
Chief Jim Murray of Peachtree City, Georgia also wrote to us. "It is a tragic shame Kristie will not have a chance to experience all the wonderful things in life that were taken away from her with this event. I have been an outspoken critic about needless police chases for more than a year and have received threats and praise because of my stand, but I will continue to fight for the rights of victims all over the USA. So count on me to be there and call on me at any time to help you."
Back home in California, too many pursuits have tragic endings. They illustrate the need for Kristie's Law, a bill for safer and smarter police pursuit policy and accountability:
Here are a few examples: Officer Joshua Lancaster and his wife Heather were looking forward to moving into their new home. Instead, Officer Lancaster became an innocent bystander killed at an intersection as Sanger Police chased a man driving a stolen truck. In addition to Lancaster, a female passenger in the truck and her unborn baby were killed. Ironically, Officer Lancaster was a member of the Fresno Sheriff's Department, a law enforcement agency that does not chase for property crimes, but that policy did not save Officer Lancaster. Lack of radio communication between Sanger Police and Fresno was blamed for this deadly pursuit. The Fresno Bee reported that Officer Lancaster's family believes Sanger Police didn't want to notify the Sheriff's Department about the chase because they knew Fresno Sheriff would want to call it off.
Another Fresno pursuit. This time Adam McKinnis, his wife and 15-month-old son were going to church when a car being pursued by the CHP crashed into their car. Adam, also known as Bubba to his many friends, died seven days later. The public strongly voiced their concerns, saying: "We no longer felt safe." The reason why the CHP initiated this pursuit was highly questioned: seat belt violation? or was it speeding? Yes, drugs were later found in the suspect's car, but is the Adam McKinnis family really safer now? Again, Fresno PD and Sheriff's Departments both have restrictive pursuit policies, but other agencies do not.
Stockton: A mother drives to Stockton high school to pick up her two daughters and one of their friends. They never make it out of the school zone. They are hit by a fellow school mate fleeing from the police. The three high school girls died at the scene; the mom died at the hospital.
And is it not horrific to learn that two teenage girls in San Diego were walking home from school, only to be killed as a car fleeing from police rides the sidewalk?
I am here today because I believe you will listen to me as I address the issue of public safety in police pursuit. I would not waste my time talking to fleeing suspects. They do not care about my loss, and quite frankly, I do not expect suspects who flee from police to care.
But I do expect and truly believe that the police do care about my Kristie's death, and Desiree's, Ashley's, Bernice's and Christina's deaths in Stockton, Quillar's in Long Beach, Delonn's in Desert Hot Springs, Scott's, Ted's and Mariline's in three separate pursuit-related crashes in San Francisco, Jessica's death in Oxnard, Adam's in Fresno, Aaron's and Jacob's in Los Angeles, William's in Oakland and Gregory's a resident of Modesto and Jody's a resident of Grass Valley, both killed in Oakland, Eula's -- a Texas resident killed in Escondido and her 52-year-old friend Dorthia who is now confined to a nursing home in Texas because of her injuries, Myra's death in Oceanside, and 4-year-old Evelyn, who was holding her mother's hand at a bus stop in Los Angeles when she was killed in a pursuit-related crash ... and 7-year-old Korina's death in Escondido, and the more famous Harley, a three-week old baby whose arm was severed in a pursuit crash in Sylmar.
If you think this is a long list of names, think again because this list represents only a small fraction of the number of innocent people killed in California pursuits in the last couple years. And I do not expect fleeing suspects to care about the deaths of Cpl. Tyler Pinchot, Officer Terry Bennett or Officer Lancaster. These officers were killed in 2003 in high-speed chases. In a few of these pursuit-related deaths that took either the life of an innocent bystander or that of an officer, the fleeing suspects were not even caught. In our case, as I was being told that my innocent daughter was going to die, the fleeing suspect went home with her mother.
And I want to add that we support stricter penalties for those who flee, but stricter penalties alone will not solve this problem because the "young, dumb and/or stupid" will still flee. It is the police the people rely upon to serve and protect all of us -- even innocent bystanders.
Public awareness and pressure paved the way for safer weapon and firearm policies; so eventually, the way officers conduct pursuits will change. If law enforcement does not make the change on its own, the people must -- and will -- turn to their legislators.
In 2003, LAPD Chief William Bratton rectified policy weaknesses in his jurisdiction. Prompted by the baby who lost his arm. But doing it one agency at time is a slow and tedious process and people are dying now. Here's what I'm talking about: Last month, a deadly pursuit over a stolen car in San Francisco ended with the death of an innocent woman. Now, the San Francisco PD will restrict pursuits. But sadly, another person had to die for that to happen.
Of major concern is that the CHP and some legislators see no need for change even after these deadly pursuits in school zones, high school parking lots, and residential neighborhoods.
Addressing this concern is a Fresno Bee columnist. After the death of Adam McKinnis, he writes: "The CHP is in denial about another myth of high-speed chases -- they won't have another chance to catch law breakers. Truth is, with good police work, the CHP can find them another day. Other agencies do, because they train officers to think that way."
And on Jan. 20, 2004, the Temecula PD did just that. The news headline read: Police Quit Chase and Still Make Arrest. In the story Lt. Chris Davis said: "I would like to think it would have been cancelled regardless. It would have been a poor decision to continue to chase the vehicle when we could identify the driver. Any time speeding or driving conditions appear to make the risk to the public greater than the need to apprehend the suspect, we'll discontinue the pursuit."
As more and more citizens become educated about pursuit, they are saying, "Enough is enough." Every day I recall my son's face when he told me, "Mom, the last thing I remember was Kristie laughing." The last thing I remember was hearing both my children laughing. I smiled and looked out the window into the darkness, thinking I was the luckiest mom.
As a citizen I am pursuing justice because, as my mom said, "Two wrongs do not make it right." Today I say, "When it comes to police pursuit, two wrongs do not make it right. They make it deadly."