California's police vehicular pursuit law
requires departments to have a pursuit policy to be immune
from any liability. Isn't it reasonable to require officers
to follow their policy?
This is Kristie's Law: A law that
states officers must follow their policy. It's not about
banning pursuits, and it's not about lawsuits as some officers would like you to believe. Kristie's
Law provides immunity if officers follow their
policy. It's called "accountability." Officers will
still be protected from personal liability, just like they are
While Kristie's Bill was moving through the senate,
representatives from law enforcement began to work with
Senator Sam Aanestad. Now that the bill is stalled, not one of
these officers has continued to work with the Senator, even
though several of these officers told me they truly care about
the innocent victims killed in pursuits.
Vehicular pursuit is not the only way to apprehend a suspect,
but California law does not encourage officers to use other
methods to catch these suspects. Kristie's Law is
about preventing these tragedies.
restricted its pursuits to violent felons, deaths and injuries
decreased dramatically -- and crime did not increase and more
people did not flee. Los Angeles is seeing similar
statistics since they implemented a restrictive pursuit
policy. When the Chatanooga, Tennessee police department
banned pursuits, within nine months that agency saw a savings of $300,000 just in property damage to police cars.
A California trainer recently wrote me: After one of his
officers saw our presentation on safer and smarter police
pursuits from a victims' perspective, he was on patrol and
decided to stop chasing a speeder. The trainer wrote, "He
caught the suspect later, perhaps saving a life." This
story is in sharp contrast to another chase in the same
week: A Solano County Sheriff Deputy was killed while
chasing a speeder. The suspect escaped capture.
For a year now, I have received Google
Alerts for every police pursuit or high-speed chase story
that's posted on the web. I receive an average of 10
stories a day, that's 3,650 stories a year. I have not
read one headline were police stopped a pursuit and the
fleeing suspect went on to kill someone else.
Pro-chase letter writer Jo Boelens is right.
There are no records of how many times a police pursuit has
saved a life because in the majority of those chases, fleeing
suspects are back on the streets before the officer finishes
the paperwork. And, I go on record to say that pursuits
have definitely saved lives. At the same time, that doesn't
give the police the right to be exonerated from not following
their pursuit policy all the time.
Our state law requires departments to have a pursuit policy in
order to receive blanket immunity. This immunity continues
even when officers do not follow their own agency's pursuit
Because of this lack of accountability, pursuit policies sit
on shelves for years until the unthinkable happens. An innocent woman was killed in a San Francisco pursuit.
After the woman's family became outraged, it was discovered
that the San Francisco Police Department had a no pursuit
policy for stolen vehicles since 1997. The officers admitted
that they didn't know the policy existed! Now, San
Francisco PD says it will abide by that policy, but an
innocent person had to die for that to happen.
Recently two California officers were killed in two separate
pursuits, and the suspects ... well, they got away. Are
we feeling safer yet? Boelens laments that
police risk their lives all the time to catch petty criminals.
Am I missing something here? When someone decides to
become an officer, I?m sure they know the job comes with
"Collateral damage." Is that what Kristie is? I
rarely go to this place, but I can't help but wonder how pro-chase people
would react if one of their loved ones was killed in a pursuit
where officers disregarded their own pursuit policy.
I believe the officers responsible for Kristie's death are
carrying a heavy burden, although I don't know for sure
because they have never talked to me. Of course the
fleeing suspect, a teenage girl, was responsible as well.
Some days I blame her the most; another day it's the police;
I even blame the teen's two friends who participated.
The girls' punishment -- and that of other fleeing suspects
-- is not enough. I've written letters to editors and
legislators in support of stricter penalties. In
addition, I believe these suspects should receive hefty fines and that
money should be designated for officer pursuit training
classes and for building specialized training tracks.
Originally, Kristie's Bill included stricter penalties and
training. Last year, four bills for stricter penalties
failed in our state legislature so the decision was made to
remove stricter penalties from the bill and support other
bills for stricter penalties. This year our state is
broke so there went training.
- Candy Priano
- June 21, 2004