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Slow the cop chases

March 11, 2004 -- DRIVING San Francisco's streets is no picnic. There are jay-walkers, double-parked vehicles, booming car radios and red-light runners, to name a few everyday hazards.

And then there are high-speed chases. Grieving friends and family blame police for chasing a stolen car that ran a stop sign and killed an innocent driver at a Potrero Hill intersection.

Police say it wasn't a full-blown chase. Officers flipped on the red light and siren for two blocks and followed the stolen car from a distance at 25 mph. But the driver, who has a lengthy record including a prior hit-and-run in a stolen vehicle, shot away at 60 mph before running the stop sign, plowing into another car and killing the woman at the wheel.

It's a sad result that has prompted police to consider a policy that generally leaves the matter to the judgment of officers on the scene. In fact, police say, most drivers of stolen cars pull over when "lighted up'' by a flashing red light in the rearview mirror.

But not always, as the needless fatality at 15th and De Haro streets showed. Other traffic-choked California cities, such as San Jose and Los Angeles, have tightened the rules to give police pursuers only limited exceptions. Basically, officers are instructed that if a stolen car won't pull over, let it go. Both police and the public are safer though the suspect may slip away.

San Francisco should consider doing the same. Acting Police Chief Heather Fong has promised to study the arguments. Mayor Newsom's newly named Police Commission should make sure the topic doesn't fade away.

Driving in the city is hazardous enough. Police shouldn't jeopardize themselves or the public by launching dangerous car chases.



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