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October 5, 2005

Romero bill on police pursuits signed

By LARRY MITCHELL - Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- A bill described by its authors as designed to reduce high-speed police pursuits was signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger Tuesday.

Senate Bill 719, by Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Bob Marget, R-Arcadia, passed the Legislature with very little opposition.

However, Candy Priano of Chico, who with her husband, Mark, has fought for changes in police pursuit policies in California, described the legislation as virtually meaningless.

A news release from Romero's office said the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, encourages every law-enforcement agency to adopt minimum pursuit guidelines that regulate when and how suspects are pursued.

The bill also calls for periodic pursuit training for officers and increases penalties for fleeing suspects. And it contains public-education and data-reporting components, the news release stated.

It is true the new law "requires law-enforcement agencies to adopt a pursuit policy, but this reform is mostly symbolic," Priano wrote in an e-mail to the Enterprise-Record Tuesday. "Police departments must already adopt a pursuit policy to receive blanket immunity from civil liability. This law retains California's unique injustice of immunity even when the policy is not followed."

Priano wrote that SB719's language on penalties for those who flee from police was "a farce." The penalties will be discretionary, not mandatory, she said.

At the urging of the Prianos, state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, has introduced a bill that would allow police to chase only those suspects considered highly likely to commit acts of violence.

So far, Aanestad's legislation hasn't gone very far, apparently because of intense lobbying against it by police organizations.

Aanestad's bill, called "Kristie's Law," is named after Kristie Priano, the Prianos' 15-year-old daughter, who died after a vehicle Chico police were chasing crashed into her family's van.

Romero supported Kristie's Law last year but voted against it this year.

The release from Romero's office stated the senator was very happy California's pursuit laws finally have "some teeth."

It stated that "following previous unsuccessful attempts to pass a law that limited dangerous car pursuits, Sen. Romero this year launched a bipartisan approach to crafting successful legislation by bringing all stakeholders to the table."

The release explained that SB719 is supported by state and local law enforcement leaders, including the California Peace Officers' Association, California Sheriffs Association, California Police Chiefs' Association, Peace Officers Research Association of California, California Highway Patrol, League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties.

Staff writer Larry Mitchell can be reached at 896-7759 or lmitchell@chicoer.com


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