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One wonders when law enforcement will work with California legislators to pass
legislation that will prevent a new generation of innocent victims of police pursuits.

Kristie's Law exclusive
June 16, 2004

Jo Boelens laments: "This is a difficult letter to write." And then she goes on and on with sarcasms and a personal attack against another letter writer whose only "crime" is that he did not agree with Boelens. Research doesn't agree with Boelens either. She made me feel as if Kristie was just "collateral damage."  Her self-serving comments "beautiful names of innocent victims" are so offensive because they are followed with such meanness and insensitivity. A regular letter writer, Boelens must have read my previous letters to the editor and knows that my family and Kristie's Law are not anti-law enforcement. In fact, many officers who once resisted restrictive pursuit policies now welcome them because they actually save lives!

Advocates for safer police pursuits continually encounter myths about police pursuits that are debunked in numerous studies, including the U.S. Department of Justice and the Illinois Law Enforcement Executive Forum.  As more and more law enforcement agencies around the country change to restrictive pursuit policies, like the one in Kristie's Law, they are seeing fewer deaths and injuries to innocent victims, officers and yes, even the fleeing suspects. One chief  reports that crime, such as stolen cars, has decreased because officers are doing their job in a more preventative way. Since Chief William Bratton restricted the LAPD pursuit policy, his department has also seen the same positive results mentioned above without an increase in crime.

With the public, one myth is, "It won't happen to me." About a month or so before Kristie was killed, I was home alone flipping the remote. I came across a show on police pursuits and saw horrific crashes. Arrogantly, I flipped off the TV and said out loud, "People could get killed doing that!" Even though I saw the carnage before my very eyes, I still did not conclude that "People do get killed!" It took my own daughter's death for me to realize that fact.

With officers, who find change difficult, the prevailing myth is that pursuit is the only way to catch a fleeing suspect. Fortunately, more and more law enforcement trainers are teaching officers how to catch these suspects without putting anyone at risk. It is not that unusual for me to receive an email where an officer shares a story with me of how a fleeing suspect was caught later in a different way. 

Jo Boelens, a regular Chico Enterprise-Record letter writer, has bought into every possible myth about police pursuits. In previous letters to the editor, I have addressed the myths she used in her personal attack against another letter writer, John Lozano, so I won't repeat them here. But I will say this:  Boelens writes that police risk their lives, even for minor crimes. I understand this and believe that when someone decides to become an officer, they are aware that life-threatening risks come with the job. To me, Boelens' line of thinking is an insult to the officers who have spent countless hours educating me about pursuits.  They know, understand, and accept the risks of their chosen profession and that's why they're doing their jobs safer and smarter.

My family did not choose to help police rein in a rebellious teen at the expense of Kristie's life. How much safer is Chico now that this girl was caught?  Specifically, who is safer? How many Chicoans would say, "Okay, I'll sacrifice my precious, law-abiding daughter to teach this other girl a lesson."

People are often asked, "Should officers pursue criminals at all costs?" Well, without being educated on this topic of police pursuit, most will probably respond with a quick "Yes." But, ask people this question: "Should officers pursue criminals, knowing that your loved ones might be killed, maimed or injured?" When the questions is posed to them this way, one thing for sure is that they won't answer quickly and it most likely won't be a "Yes."

Another myth:  It's 100 percent the fleeing suspect's fault. If this were true, officers would not engage in something of which they have no control. Clovis officers were honored for the outcome of a Fresno pursuit. How can this be if officers have nothing to do with the outcome? In other states if officers don't follow their policy, they're fired or receive disciplinary action. California is the only state where officers have blanket immunity even if they do not follow their policy.

And, some officers decide not to chase. A trainer writes: "We had a pursuit to catch a speeder, only to be terminated by the officer who ... obtained a license plate and caught the suspect later, perhaps saving a life."

In sharp contrast, two California officers were killed in April and June. The suspects -- one a speeder and the other's crime is unknown -- got away. 

With better laws and succinct guidelines on pursuits, officers say it makes their job easier, and they feel better equipped to conduct safer pursuits and avoid unnecessary ones.

Candy Priano

P.S. On that Tuesday night as we drove to Kristie's basketball game, I never thought my beautiful daughter would be killed in a dark, residential neighborhood in Chico, a city known for being a great place to raise a family. But it did happen because a teenage girl decided to flee and the officers decided to disregard their own pursuit policy. It takes two to have a car chase.
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