May 1, 2004—North state law enforcement agencies are giving a cool reaction to a bill by state Sen. Sam Aanestad that would restrict high-speed pursuits.
Redding police, Shasta County sheriff's and California Highway Patrol officials argue they need to be able to chase suspected criminals who refuse to pull over when they deploy their lights and sirens.
The agencies contend their officers already follow strict guidelines limiting the number of vehicles involved in pursuits, outlining the types of offenses that warrant pursuits and requiring supervisors to oversee chases as they proceed.
"Just about every agency follows ... guidelines for how pursuits will be conducted," Redding Police Chief Leonard Moty said. "They have such things as, You will constantly re-evaluate your reason for pursuing somebody,' based on the nature of the violation, how serious it is, the time of day, traffic conditions and whether you're on a freeway or in a school zone.
"Many times our offices will terminate a pursuit ... for safety reasons because it's just not worth continuing the pursuit," Moty said.
Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, proposes prohibiting chases unless the public faces "certain, immediate and impending" peril. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the bill, which would also ban chases by more than two squad cars, by motorcycles once squad cars have picked up the chase, or shooting at the fleeing vehicle.
It also would bar aggressive tactics like ramming the fleeing vehicle unless authorized by a supervisor in extreme circumstances.
Aanestad titles the legislation "Kristie's Law," in memory of Chico 15-year-old Kristie Priano, who died in 2002 when her family's minivan was struck by an unlicensed 15-year-old who was evading police.
At least 51 people were killed in California -- including 24 bystanders -- as a result of police chases in 2001, the most recent year for which federal figures are available. In Redding earlier this year, a 73-year-old motorist was injured on Bechelli Lane when a motorcyclist fleeing from the CHP crashed head-on into her.
"There's no question it will save lives," Aanestad said of his bill. "Not anything in this bill is my own concoction. Every line item in that bill ... is taken from a pursuit manual from entities across the country that have already strengthened their pursuit restrictions."
However, Shasta County Undersheriff Larry Schaller called the legislation "poorly thought out and naive." He said the bill would increasepublic danger by encouraging suspects to drive recklessly.
"All anyone would have to do is drive 15 miles (per hour) over the speed limit and they'd be exempt from a traffic stop as a practical matter," Schaller said.
Capt. Dave Hahn, commander of Redding's CHP office, would not comment on the legislation specifically but said the agency believes pursuits are "a necessary tool" to apprehend violators who refuse to stop.
"All pursuits are conducted with the safety of the public in mind," Hahn said.
Moty said Aanestad's bill does not include increased penalties for those who try to evade police, and that the requirement for "imminent peril" is too vague.
Aanestad responded that he's open to having his bill amended. He said communities that have adopted stricter controls on pursuits, such as Los Angeles and Orange County, have seen a dramatic decrease in pursuit-related crashes but no increase in crime.
He has argued that police frequently know where they can find the driver later.
"You'll eventually get your person," Aanestad said, "just not that minute."
Reporter Tim Hearden can be reached at 530-225-8224 or at email@example.com.