By Henry Pierson Curtis
Sentinel Staff Writer
April 19, 2005
Orlando's strict policy limiting police pursuits passed its first-year review on Monday without a surge in fleeing criminals thumbing their noses at police.
Members of a civilian-police panel who threw out the old chase rules congratulated themselves by calling their work a "model policy" for the rest of the United States.
"The two myths that we see everywhere is that if you don't chase, everybody's going to run . . . and the crime rate is going to escalate," said Geoff Alpert, a nationally recognized authority on pursuits and policy liability, who consulted the Orlando panel.
"It's really impressive; the numbers speak for themselves.
In the 12 months that ended March 8, Orlando police chased suspects seven times compared with four chases in the two months preceding the policy, records show.
During the year, 107 potential chases were called off when motorists refused to stop. The number represented 0.0026 percent of the police department's 40,460 traffic stops, records show.
Two fleeing suspects were injured in two crashes during the year-long study, compared with four injuries in fives crashes in the preceding 14 months.
Under the policy, police can only chase someone suspected of a violent forcible felony, such as murder, armed robbery and armed sexual assault.
Police assigned to patrol duties initially objected to the restrictions but the "street officer" assigned to the panel predicted his colleagues will understand they are safer now than last year.
"The officers are going to see not everyone who flees from them just robbed a 7-Eleven down the street," said Officer Shawn Dunlap.
Since 1996, high-speed driving and chases killed at least two Orlando police officers and at least two Orange County deputies. Also killed were at least one suspect and one innocent motorist.
About 400 people die in pursuits every year across the U.S. The number of injuries to officers, motorists and pedestrians is not known, but civil lawsuits over chase-related injuries and deaths remain the biggest liability cost to police, Alpert said.
The tougher standard reflects what Police Chief Mike McCoy called Orlando's "community standard," the amount of threat Orlando residents are willing to risk for their safety.
"We do it for you," McCoy said of prohibiting chases of shoplifters, car thieves and red light runners through neighborhood streets or down Interstate 4. "We're still catching the bad guys."
One of the policy's most significant changes was ordering every officer who aborts a chase to shut off the emergency lights and either stop the patrol car or turn and head the other way, said Stanley Stone, a Valencia Community College administrator, who chaired the panel.
Every police department in Orange County, except the Sheriff's Office, has adopted the Orlando policy, according to interviews. The Sheriff's Office revised its policy in 2003 but still permits some chases of suspects in nonviolent felony crimes.
Henry Pierson Curtis can be reached at
407-420-5257 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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