One wonders when law enforcement will work with
California legislators to prevent future victims.
- Statewide police pursuit policy needed for safety, senator says
- Bill setting chase limits before committee today
By Don Thompson, The Associated Press
April 20, 2004
SACRAMENTO -- One minute, Kristie Priano was a 15-year-old Chico honor student laughing with her brother in the back of the family minivan on the way to her high school basketball game.
The next, she was one of dozens of people killed in California and hundreds who die each year across the nation in high-speed police pursuits, many of them innocent victims.
At least 51 people were killed in California, 24 of them bystanders, in 2001, the most recent year for which federal figures are available. That's nearly 15 percent of the 365 such pursuit deaths recorded nationwide that year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the most of any state. Texas followed with 30 deaths and Florida with 15.
Kristie's Law was the title state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, chose for legislation he's seeking that would impose a statewide pursuit policy and prohibit chases unless the public faces "certain, immediate and impending" peril.
A committee vote is slated for today on the bill, which also would ban chases by more than two squad cars, by motorcycles once squad cars have picked up the chase, or shooting at the fleeing vehicle. It would also bar aggressive tactics such as ramming the fleeing vehicle unless authorized by a supervisor in extreme circumstances.
"Enough is enough. There has to be a smarter -- and safer -- way," Kristie's mother, Candy Priano, said in testimony prepared for the committee last week. "Obviously, we do not expect the 'bad guys' to care about our safety, but we do expect peace officers to 'protect and serve' all of us, including innocent bystanders."
But law enforcement organizations say Kristie's Law would punish the police instead of the bad guys who flee in the first place.
The driver who struck the Priano's van that January night in 2002 was an unlicensed 15-year-old who had taken her mother's car without permission.
Kristie Priano was one of 14 bystanders killed during 6,337 police chases that year, according to the most recent California Highway Patrol statistics. The number was up substantially from the 5,895 chases in 2001, according to the CHP, which declined to comment on the bill. The CHP's numbers are substantially lower than the federal NHTSA figures.
Aanestad argues in most such cases, the pursuit is a greater danger to the public than is the fugitive, and that more drunks and youths are involved in police pursuits than are dangerous criminals. And frequently, as in the Priano case, police know where they can find the driver later.
Los Angeles, which had become synonymous with the televised chase, reported more of them than any other major city until it prohibited pursuits for minor traffic offenses in 2002. The number of chases dropped by 62 percent, injuries to bystanders dropped 78 percent, injuries to suspects dropped 58 percent and injuries to police dropped about 33 percent.
Boston, Chicago, Miami and Seattle are among other major cities that have adopted similar policies with similar success, along with Fresno and Orange counties in California, according to Aanestad's survey.
His bill would end police immunity from lawsuits if they violate the statewide policy and are ruled to have acted in bad faith or with gross negligence.
Since 1987, police have had what the 4th Appellate Court in 2002 termed a "get-out-of-liability-free" law even if police violate their own department's pursuit policy. The ruling tossed out a lawsuit by the family of a man fatally injured by a fleeing van in an Orange County high school parking lot.
An effort to end the immunity if pursuit policies were ignored passed the Senate but failed in the Assembly last year with strong opposition from law enforcement organizations.
"It will make police agencies civilly liable for injuries and deaths caused by fleeing suspects. These are consequences that are totally outside the control of police agencies," said John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association and California Peace Officers Association. "Innocent people who are harmed by a fleeing suspect are victims of a violent crime."
Rather than punish police, he said, lawmakers should sharply stiffen penalties for fleeing and create a no-fault victims' compensation fund paid for jointly by every law enforcement agency.
On the Net:
Read SB1866 at http://www.sen.ca.gov
Kristie's Web site: http://www.kristieslaw.org