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Editorial: High-Speed Chases

March 11, 2005 -- Hearings began in Sacramento this past week on a subject that could dramatically change the way law enforcement does its job in California. It's called Kristie's Law: named after a Chico girl who was accidentally killed during a high-speed police chase three years ago. Supporters believe it's time to take a fresh look at how law enforcement pursues criminals, possibly even outlawing high-speed pursuits.

Our Editorial Board is glad there is a debate on the subject. State lawmakers are right to study it, and law enforcement departments across the state should be vigilant in evaluating how they handle such dangerous actions as high-speed chases. We support the part of Kristie's Law, which calls for establishing strict, uniform protocols for how to handle high-speed pursuits. And we are glad to see lawmakers wanting to place greater liability on criminals who try to flee police. That seems just.

What doesn't seem right is the push to hold officers liable for any damage that might be caused during a high-speed pursuit. Certainly, if an officer disobeys orders or violates department protocol, there should be accountability. But to us, it seems unfair to ask our sworn peace officers to put their lives on the line protecting us, then punish them when a chance encounter with a criminal regretfully turns tragic.

It's a cold reality that as long as there are bad people in the world, bad things will happen. And sometimes, it will be the unfortunate innocent who get hurt. That "thin blue line," the police, try their best to protect us. Some new law altogether banning high-speed pursuits won't get rid of high-speed getaways. Criminals may even be emboldened to get away as quickly as possible, knowing that after a certain speed, police will just give up the chase. High-speed pursuits should be a last resort, but the alternative is lawlessness.

 

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