- For camera-ready pictures
One wonders when California legislators will put forth meaningful legislation that will actually minimize the dangers of police vehicular pursuits. We wonder because for more than 20 years our State legislators have been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to pass legislation to update California's outdated and dangerous pursuit laws.
|Just introducing the measure (Kristie's Law) has prompted threats of political retaliation against State Senator Samuel Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, whose vast district extends from the
college town of Chico to Redding and the Oregon border.
Maready, a Redding detective, said he might form a coalition of police unions and
work to unseat Aanestad in 2006.
"We would actively oppose his re-election if this were to carry on. He
might see that districtwide," Maready said. Aanestad's reaction: "I don't care. This is the right thing to do."
- Proposed Law Would Limit Police Chases
Legislation put forward by a Republican state senator has provoked
law enforcement unions, which threaten political retaliation.
L.A. Times Staff Writer
|SACRAMENTO, April 12, 2004—A Republican lawmaker, dismayed by a police chase that
ended in the death of a teenage girl from his Northern California
district, wants to make police more accountable for high-speed pursuits.New legislation designed to curb police chases comes a year after a
similar measure by Democrats died amid intense lobbying from law
enforcement unions. But this time, the effort is pitting a law-and-order Republican from a rural district against police -- a rarity in
"The way we're reading this, it will effectively shut down pursuits,"
said Redding Det. Aaron Maready, president of the police union there.
The measure carried by Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) would limit
police chases to cases in which the public faces "imminent peril" if a
suspect gets away. For the first time, it would open police to civil
lawsuits if they disregarded the new statewide standard and someone were
killed or injured.
Police and their lobbyists are furious about the measure and have vowed
to kill it. Lawmakers, they say, should not dictate street-level police
actions for something as unpredictable as a chase. And they believe the
specter of civil lawsuits would hamper their ability to make quick
decisions without fear of ending up in court.Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature rarely challenge police
with measures that would both take away their power and expose them to
lawsuits, in part because law enforcement unions and department
officials are powerful in the political world. Few things are more
coveted in a reelection campaign than an endorsement from police.Just introducing the measure has prompted threats of political
retaliation against Aanestad, whose vast district extends from the
college town of Chico to Redding and the Oregon border. Maready, the
Redding detective, said he might form a coalition of police unions and
work to unseat Aanestad in 2006.
"We would actively oppose his reelection if this were to carry on. He
might see that districtwide," Maready said.
Aanestad's reaction: "I don't care."
Aanestad said he introduced the bill after hearing about the death of
Kristie Priano, a 15-year-old high school basketball player from Chico.
A teenage girl who had taken her mother's car without permission slammed
into the Priano family minivan on its way to a game. Police knew where
the teenage driver lived, but decided to pursue her, leading to the
Critics of the legislation say police must make quick decisions without
fear of a protracted lawsuit. But Aanestad said that California law
currently required only that police departments have a policy on car
chases - yet nothing compels them to follow the policy.
Currently, the law prohibits lawsuits against police for negligence as
long as there is a written policy on pursuits. Aanestad said the lawsuit
threat in his legislation would make officers think twice before
beginning an unnecessarily dangerous chase.
Aanestad, an oral surgeon, made the comparison to a doctor who can be
sued for malpractice but nevertheless still treats people in emergency
|"I have lived my whole life putting people to sleep and doing surgery on
them, realizing that any mistake can jeopardize my career and the life
of somebody else. And that doesn't stop you from doing your job."
Aanestad's measure would require a single statewide standard for police
chases, overruling the patchwork of rules from city to city. Police
chases would be prohibited if officers were carrying a prisoner; if
their car did not have a forward-facing red light or a siren; and if the
vehicle being chased did "not represent an imminent peril."
To further refine the standard, Aanestad defines imminent peril in the
proposed law as: "Certain, immediate and impending. The peril is not
remote, uncertain or contingent. A likelihood of mere possibility of
injury or loss of life is not sufficient to create an imminent peril."
Police say this definition would cripple their ability to chase
The legislation would "create an enormous liability for law enforcement
agencies throughout the state," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca
wrote to Aanestad. "It attempts to address and impose many restrictions
upon extremely complex, dynamic and unpredictable events."
Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, warned in a letter to Aanestad that
police would "fail to pursue criminals because of the worry of
[lawsuits] for not following the very detailed procedures in your
measure. The public's safety could potentially be at risk if officers
fail to conduct these pursuits."
Santa Barbara Police Chief Camerino Sanchez, president of the California
Police Chiefs Assn., said Aanestad should instead look at increasing the
penalties for fleeing suspects or establishing a statewide fund to
compensate victims after police chases, rather than allow lawsuits.
Last year, the Legislature failed to approve a measure, written by Sen.
Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), that would have required police to set
chase guidelines and, if the rules were not followed, open them up to
As in the Priano case, Romero's legislation came about because of a
police chase that turned deadly. Khuong Van Nguyen was collecting cans
with his wife in the parking lot at La Quinta High School in Westminster
when a stolen van pursued by police smashed into him and caused massive
He died three years later, but his family failed in its efforts to
collect from the city of Westminster. An appeals court threw out the
family's wrongful-death lawsuit, but encouraged the Legislature to
reconsider the immunity it grants to cities and police. The court said
current law appeared "to have shifted too far toward immunity and left public safety twisting in the wind."
"It's a joke," Romero said about the current situation, "because we can
have a one-paragraph policy or we can have a 30-page policy. And at the
end of the day, it's irrelevant, because the current loophole says you
don't have to implement it."
Even before the Aanestad measure was written, police officers, chiefs,
law enforcement unions, Democrats and Republicans were asking him to
hold back. Now that the measure is to get its first hearing Tuesday in
the Senate Public Safety Committee, law enforcement officers have
increased the pressure.
Amid this renewed debate about chases, however, police and sheriffs from
Los Angeles, Fresno, Chicago, Boston, Miami and Orange County have
refined their standards, in most cases to give officers more flexibility
to call off pursuits.
The Los Angeles Police Department sharply reduced the number of chases
by relying more on helicopter surveillance and a new policy giving its
officers discretion to call off chases involving minor crimes. The
number of chases declined 62%, along with a reduction in injuries to
bystanders, suspects and police, according to figures the department
released last year.
Candy Merchant Priano, mother of the girl killed in Chico, said those
figures prove that if police would set tougher standards for pursuits,
the number of injuries and deaths would decrease.