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One wonders when law enforcement will work with 
California legislators to prevent future victims.

 
 

 
SPEAK YOUR PIECE

Bill pursues justice for 'lost victims'

By Candy Merchant Priano
Redding Record Searchlight
May 26, 2004

Victims of crime leave behind families who fear that their loved ones will be forgotten.

For decades and even today, innocent people killed in police pursuits are considered "collateral damage." Families of pursuit victims don't even have a chance to fear that their loved ones will be forgotten because they quickly learn that their children, siblings, parents, grandparents are the "lost crime victims."

Law enforcement doesn't want to claim them because that means the departments would have to take some responsibility for the mounting deaths and injuries. They seem to wish the victims would just disappear, and too often they do.

Victims of pursuits disappear from state-mandated reports since many crashes are not classified as "pursuit related" if they occurred right after a pursuit was terminated.

Law enforcement admits the national figure, 386 deaths in 2002, may be too low. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports California leads the nation with more than 100 people killed in 2001 and 2002.

This figure includes four dead in a Stockton school zone. A mother was picking up her two daughters and a friend when a suspected car thief fleeing police crashed into the mother's car. This story and others are on www.kristieslaw.org.

As if a loved one's death weren't bad enough, families share stories of how law enforcement and even politicians respond with silence, an effective weapon because it refuses to engage the issues.

California courts are useless since our state grants blanket immunity to law enforcement agencies even if officers fail to follow their policy. Cases are summarily dismissed, just like the victims.

Because some believe pursuits are needed for property crimes and traffic violations, Senate Bill 1403, also known as Kristie's Law, and Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, the bill's author, have faced criticism and political reprisal from law enforcement.

Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Salladay wrote: "Just introducing the measure has prompted threats of political retaliation against Aanestad. Redding Detective Aaron Maready, president of a police union, said he might form a coalition of police unions and work to unseat Aanestad in 2006, 'if this were to carry on.'"

Because of the courage of Aanestad and other legislators who place saving lives above law enforcement's coveted endorsement for re-election, one thing is certain. Victims of unnecessary police pursuits will not disappear as easily as they have in the past.

Not so certain is whether California law enforcement will look for more sophisticated ways to catch fleeing suspects. Departments across the nation have restrictive pursuit policies like the one proposed in Kristie's Bill, and they work.

Some California agencies have implemented similar policies with the same positive results, but Aanestad says, "We need this bill to get everyone on board; we need accountability."

The Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner established a model for accountability that prevents officers from shooting a nondangerous fleeing felon. Despite arguments to the contrary -- the same ones being lodged against the immunity issue in Kristie's Bill -- the safer firearm policy did not hamper the police or burden the courts. No one should expect anything less from this legislation if officers follow their stated policy.

People who flee don't care about our safety, so protecting the innocent falls on law enforcement. California usually leads the nation with innovative ways to police, but while changes are being made across the country, California is still suffering with outdated and dangerous pursuit policies.

Some argue that chasing "the bad guys" keeps us safe, but only 10 percent of all pursuits involve violent felons, leaving 90 percent for traffic offenses and nonviolent crimes that pose little or no threat to the public unless pursued.

"When we quit chasing stolen vehicles," says Chief Steven Jones of Orange County, Fla., "our arrest and recovery rate went way up because we thought 'out of the box.' No more chases, no damaged cars, no injuries and no deaths."

At a California Crime Victims' dinner, Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona said, "Law enforcement collaborates on finding solutions to problems."

One wonders when law enforcement will follow through with the commitment they made during a Senate judiciary hearing to collaborate with Aanestad and make Kristie's Bill the means to prevent a new generation of innocent victims of pursuits.

Remember, fleeing suspects don't care. That's why we are counting on law enforcement. When it comes to police pursuits, two wrongs don't make it right; they make it deadly.

Candy Merchant Priano is the mother of Kristina "Kristie" Priano, 15, who died January 28, 2002, seven days after a vehicle crashed into her family's van while fleeing police in a residential neighborhood. That car was driven by another 15-year-old who had driven off with her mother's vehicle.

 

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