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.