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Kristie's Law gets new look

Bill designed to reduce incidents with bystanders

BY DAVID MIRHADI, davidm@theunion.com
April 23, 2005

Under a new proposal by Grass Valley's state senator, police pursuits in California would be reserved only for suspects in violent felonies.

State Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, announced the new version of his "Kristie's Law" bill this week after meeting with law enforcement officials from across the state.

Senate Bill 718, which Aanestad co-authored with Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, is designed to reduce the chance of bystanders being injured or killed during pursuits.

"Kristie's Law sets a firm policy that will save the innocent lives of our children and grandchildren. Far too many innocent lives have been lost to pursuits already," Aanestad said in a statement.

In the newest version of Kristie's Law, Aanestad proposes limiting chases to cases where suspects committed violent felonies, which include murder, attempted murder, rape, mayhem, and assault with a deadly weapon.

The bill is named for Kristie Priano, a 15-year-old Chico teen killed in January 2000 when her family van was hit by another driver fleeing police.

Earlier versions of the bill were opposed by law enforcement officials across the state because they feared officers would be held liable for accidents caused by pursuits.

In its current form, Kristie's Law retains a police officer's immunity from lawsuits brought forth by bystanders killed or injured in such pursuits.

The issue was broached at a recent summit between Aanestad and law enforcement leaders at a meeting last month. Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster, who attended the meeting, opposed making officers liable for damages from chases.

"We should not be discussing immunity," Foster said in a previous interview.

Aanestad spokesman Bill Bird said retaining officers' immunity probably gives the bill a better chance of passage during this legislative session.

"This was not an issue (law enforcement agencies) were going to budge on," Bird said. "The senator is a Republican who is on the side of public safety and law enforcement. What he's trying to do is save our children and our grandchildren from a serious incident they had no part in."

The current bill does not explain how officers would be punished if they violated Kristie's Law.

"Law enforcement personnel will still face reprimands from the departments they work for, but it will be a question for each individual community to decide," Bird said.

The bill now moves to the Senate Public Safety Committee, where a hearing is scheduled Tuesday.

Candy Priano's Note: Kristie's Law in 2004 never included any component that would allow families of innocent third parties killed or innocent bystanders who were injured in police pursuits to personally file lawsuits against officers. I believe this was a scare tactic by law enforcement lobbyists so the public would be against Kristie's Law. Also, since California granted law enforcement agencies blanket immunity from civil liability, police pursuits have increased, as have deaths to innocent bystanders. California consistently leads the nation in police pursuit deaths.

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