One wonders when law enforcement will work with California legislators to make 
Kristie's Law the means to prevent a new generation of innocent victims of police pursuits.

Immunity

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 today.

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.

When Miami-Dade 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 policy. 

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 risks.

"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

 

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