Are these provisions reasonable? Can anyone else be "certain" of another driver's actions? If an officer is traveling 61 mph in a 45 mph zone with all emergency lights and sirens activated and is involved in a traffic collision, does this automatically place the officer at fault for the crash regardless of the other driver's actions?
The legislation limits the number of pursuing motor vehicles to no more than two. While this is the guideline in most law enforcement agency pursuit policies, there are exceptions, such as when the vehicle being pursued has multiple occupants. Two officers cannot safely control more than two vehicle occupants at the termination point of a pursuit.
While we cannot control the actions of those violators who attempt to flee from officers, the Oxnard Police Department has taken advantage of recent technological advancements that make all types of emergency vehicle operations safer for the motoring public and the members of our department.
Leveraging a program started by the Oxnard Fire Department some six years ago, the Oxnard Police Department is beginning to equip its fleet with special "traffic signal pre-emption devices." This special equipment changes red lights to green when a police car has its emergency lights activated. This feature has already proved useful during a recent pursuit of a stolen vehicle and regularly results in faster, safer responses by fire equipment to emergency calls.
The Oxnard City Council has allocated nearly $200,000 to outfit existing traffic signals with traffic pre-emption equipment. New and replacement traffic signal installations are required to have the pre-emption system installed. Oxnard is the only city in the county that uses these systems and additional intersections are being equipped with this equipment on a regular basis.
Research into high-speed vehicle pursuit prevention and intervention techniques may provide law enforcement with high-technology tools that will incapacitate suspect vehicles. Some devices, such as retractable spike barrier strips that disable, are already in use by local law enforcement agencies and have met with limited success. We have all seen police pursuits on television where such devices are successfully deployed and the suspect keeps driving until the tire rim is ground to a nub. Other equipment, such as vehicle snares, vehicle marking systems, and motor vehicle electronic system disruptors, are still being tested.
Emergency vehicle operation -- whether it is pursuing a suspect in a fleeing car or responding to an emergency call for help -- is serious business. The overwhelming number of these incidents takes place with little notice from the public or the press. It is now a regular part of doing police work in today's society. The Aanestad law is essentially a ban on police pursuits. What will be the fallout if criminals can avoid capture by fleeing the police in a car?
While one death of an innocent bystander is too many, we must remember who causes most crashes. It is not the police, but the violator who decides to drive erratically in hopes of evading capture. It is a violator who creates the circumstances of a police pursuit, not the police officer.
When an innocent person dies as the result of a police pursuit, the blame should rest squarely on the shoulders of the suspect who failed to obey the law and used his car as a deadly weapon in a failed attempt to avoid arrest.
-- Tom Chronister is commander of the Oxnard Police Department.