SACRAMENTO -- California Senator Sam Aanestad told fellow senators they broke his heart by rejecting "Kristie's Law" on police pursuits Tuesday.
Each year in California about 50 people die as a result of police chases, and a sizable percentage of them are innocent victims, said Aanestad, a Grass Valley Republican who represents the north valley.
"This committee is looking the other way. You're doing something that won't save lives," he told the Senate Public Safety Committee when it became clear his bill was going down. "And it breaks my heart because next year I'm going to have to come back with 50 more names."
At a hearing, the panel voted 4-1 against Aanestad's measure to restrict pursuits.
Opponents of the bill said it would hinder police and allow criminals to run free.
Aanestad testified his legislation, Senate Bill 718, would cut the numbers of pursuits and deaths. It would allow police statewide to only chase fleeing suspects they believed had committed or were about to commit violent felonies.
The senator made it clear he won't stop crusading to limit pursuits. He said research and experience show by restricting when police can pursue, the number of chases can be cut, lives and money can be saved, and just as many criminals can be caught. He claimed it's a myth that crime will increase if police pursuits are restricted.
For Aanestad, the issue is simple: police do eliminate a degree of danger to the public by catching some violent suspects through unrestricted pursuits, but that benefit is greatly outweighed by the danger officers create by initiating so many pursuits.
Aanestad first introduced Kristie's Law in 2003 at the request of a Chico couple whose 15-year-old daughter died because of a pursuit. The measure is named after the girl, Kristie Priano.
Last year's bill, which passed the Senate Public Safety Committee but failed in the Judiciary Committee, was tougher than this year's. It would have allowed pursuits only when a fleeing suspect posed an imminent public danger. It also would have removed the blanket immunity from lawsuits cities, counties and states enjoy in connection with pursuits.
Aanestad said he met with police groups this year to hear their concerns. As a result, he modified his bill, eliminating reference to the immunity issue and restricting pursuits to cases where officers have reason to believe a fleeing suspect has committed or is about to commit a violent felony.
He told the panel Tuesday that another measure relating to pursuits, Senate Bill 719, had been introduced by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles. He described his bill and hers as "companion" measures. While his bill restricted pursuits, Romero's measure, sponsored by law-enforcement groups, offered reforms in the areas of public education, reporting on pursuits, and training of officers, Aanestad said. It also proposed tougher penalties for those who flee.
Testifying Tuesday, Nick Warner, legislative director of the California State Sheriffs Association, said Aanestad was wrong to call SB718 and SB719 companion bills.
"It is one bill against the other," he said, adding Aanestad's measure was "bad for public safety."
John Lovell, representing the California Police Officers Association, said restricting pursuits would allow dangerous criminals to go free. He noted in Fairfield last year, officers chased a suspect who had committed a traffic infraction and, when they caught him, learned he was wanted on two murder charges.
Testifying for Aanestad's bill were Mark and Candy Priano, parents of Kristie, who was fatally hurt in January 2002 when an SUV police were chasing hit the van she and her family were riding in.
"My family did not ask to be a rolling roadblock for the Chico Police Department," Mark Priano said. "The bottom line is our daughter is still dead because they were chasing a girl who took mommy's car."
Candy Priano said that 59 innocent Californians have died as a result of police pursuits since her daughter was killed. "Kristie is just one of 59 innocent bystanders," she told the committee. "Please remember, when you hear the numbers, it's not just a number. It's a person."
Sen. Alquist said she couldn't support SB718 because "I do believe there are people who have committed crimes who will not be picked up if the bill becomes law."
Sen. Romero, whose bill to remove California's blanket immunity failed two years ago, said she wouldn't support Aanestad's measure either. She said SB718 was destined to be defeated. She was backing her own bill, SB719, which she said stood a good chance of passing and being signed into law.
Aanestad said he'd support Romero's measure, but added it wouldn't reduce pursuits, which is what's needed to save lives.
While the panel rejected Aanestad's bill, it passed Romero's on a 6-0 vote.
Aanestad, an oral surgeon in private life, compared efforts to restrict police pursuits to Florence Nightingale's campaign in the 1800s to convince doctors they must wash their hands before doing surgery.
She was laughed at, but she persisted, he told the committee. "I hope someday you'll listen."
Staff writer Larry Mitchell can be reached at 896-7759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BACKGROUND: Since the death of a Chico teenager three years ago, state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, has pushed for restrictions on police pursuits.
WHAT'S NEW: The senator's latest version of a bill to restrict chases was defeated by a Senate committee Tuesday.
WHAT'S NEXT: Aanestad said he'll be back with another bill next year. Sadly, he said, it's virtually certain that by then, about 50 more Californians, including innocent bystanders, will have died because of pursuits.
Copyrighted article reprinted with permission.