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"Can you think of any other public-safety priority where thoughtful policy is developed, adopted and then legally ignored? All other law enforcement policies require accountability. Accountability should never be feared. It is critical to good government." —The late Jim Phillips, pursuitwatch.org, June 2005.

SB 718
A
uthor: Senator Sam Aanestad
As Amended April 20, 2005
Vehicle Code

Source: Candy and Mark Priano

KEY ISSUE

SHOULD LAW ENFORCEMENT BE PERMITTED TO INITIATE A MOTOR VEHICLE PURSUIT ONLY WHEN THERE IS REASONABLE SUSPICION THAT A FLEEING SUSPECT HAS COMMITTED A VIOLENT FELONY?

PURPOSE

The purpose of this bill is to limit the ability of law enforcement to pursue a fleeing vehicle to those situations when there is reasonable suspicion the person committed a violent felony.

Existing law provides that a person is guilty of willfully evading a peace officer if all of the following conditions exist:

While driving a vehicle, the person attempts to evade a pursuing peace officer; The peace officer's motor vehicle is exhibiting at least one lighted red lamp visible from the front and the person sees or reasonably should have seen the lamp; The peace officer's vehicle is sounding a siren as may reasonably be necessary; and The peace officer is driving his or her vehicle while
wearing a distinctive peace officer's uniform. (Penal Code 2800.1.)

Existing law provides that if a public agency adopts a written policy for police vehicular pursuits that meets specified standards, the public agency is immune from liability for injuries or damages caused to third parties when a suspect fleeing a police pursuit causes an accident which results in that third-party injury or damage. Case law has interpreted section 17004.7 to apply the immunity even when the public agency has not implemented the adopted policy or when the public entity's peace officer was not complying with the adopted policy in conducting the vehicular pursuit that led to the third-party injury. (Vehicle Code 17004.7.)

This bill finds and declares all of the following:

Individuals who flee from law enforcement demonstrate no respect or consideration for the safety of other motorists or anyone present on the roadway. Motor vehicle pursuits of fleeing suspects present a danger to the lives of the public, peace officers, and suspects involved in the pursuits. According to the statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, California has historically had higher numbers for fatalities in crashes involving motor vehicle pursuits by peace officers. In 2001, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 365 fatalities nationwide as a result of motor vehicle pursuits by peace offices. California had the highest number of fatalities with 51 deaths, accounting for nearly 15 percent of the nation's crashes. Of those 51 deaths, accounting for nearly 15 percent of the nation's crashes. Of those 51 fatalities, 24 were innocent bystanders. On average, that is one death a week due to peace officer pursuits, and one innocent death every two weeks.

According to California Highway Patrol statistics in 2004 there were 6,913 motor vehicle pursuits reported. Twenty-six percent or 1,848, of those pursuits resulted in collisions, and 26 pursuits resulted in fatalities. The primary function of all law enforcement agencies is to protect the public against personal injury, death, or property damage. Motor vehicle pursuits by peace officers present an inherent risk to the public. A responsibility of law enforcement is to ensure that innocent third parties are reasonably shielded from any risk emanating from these pursuits. It is also necessary to assist peace officers for the performance of their duties.

This bill defines "intercepting" as the activation of emergency lights or siren, or both, at the discretion of the peace officer, to notify a traffic violator of the presence of the motor vehicle of a peace officer and to cause the violator to stop quickly and as safely as possible.

This bill defines "overtaking" as the active attempt by a peace officer to catch up to and stop a traffic violator before there is recognition by the violator that the peace officer is attempting to stop the violator.

This bill defines "peace officer" as having the same meaning as the way the term is defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2 of the Penal Code.

This bill defines "pursuit" or "motor vehicle pursuit" as an active attempt by a peace officer while operating a motor vehicle, to apprehend a suspect who is also operating a motor vehicle, while the suspect is trying to avoid capture by using high speed driving or other evasive tactics, including, but not limited to, driving off a highway, making a sudden or unexpected movement, or driving on the wrong side of the roadway. Initiation of a motor vehicle pursuit does not include intercepting or overtaking. It begins when the violator recognizes that a peace officer is attempting to stop him or her.

This bill provides that a peace officer may initiate a motor vehicle pursuit when he or she has a reasonable suspicion that a fleeing suspect has committed or attempted to commit a violent
felony as described in Penal Code section 667.5.

This bill provides that a peace officer shall not initiate a motor vehicle pursuit when he or she has a reasonable suspicion that a fleeing suspect has committed a felony not listed in Penal Code section 667.5, a misdemeanor, or a traffic or civil infraction.

This bill provides that the act it creates shall be known as Kristie's Law.

COMMENTS

1. Need for This Bill

According to the author:

This bill is based upon precedence set in California by some of the most respected law enforcement agencies in the State. The Los Angeles Police Department's pursuit policy reads:

"Officers shall not initiate a pursuit based solely on an infraction, misdemeanor evading (including failure to yield), or reckless driving in response to enforcement action taken by Department Personnel."

In addition, the Santa Monica Police Department allows a pursuit when:

"The officer has reasonable cause that can be clearly articulated to believe that the suspect he/she is attempting to detain/arrest:

1. Is threatening to, or has committed a Felony crime against the person of another, involving the use of threatened use of deadly force, or force likely to cause great bodily injury?"

In addition, Geoffrey Alpert, Professor and Chair of Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of South Carolina, has a model policy based upon his research that stipulates that polices should be engaged based upon violent felonies as defined:

"Violent felonies-felonies in which a perpetrator uses aggressive physical force. A violent felony includes the following offenses:

Homicide.
Kidnapping.
Assault in the first or second degree.
Robbery in the first degree.
Forcible rape.
Forcible sodomy.
Arson in the first degree.

It is important to note that SB 718 does not eliminate motor vehicle pursuits in California; however, what SB 718 will do is further protect the public from any inherent dangers associated with pursuits. Not all crimes are worthy of a pursuit-prioritization, as well as recognition that innocent lives (whether it be another innocent driver, innocent passenger, or innocent pedestrian) are at risk.

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