Pursuing justice for 'lost'
By Candy Priano
May 26, 2004--Crime victims leave behind families who fear
that their loved ones will be forgotten.
For decades and even today, innocent people killed in police
pursuits are considered acceptable collateral damage. Families of
pursuit victims don't even have a chance to fear that their loved ones
will be forgotten because they quickly learn that their children,
siblings, parents, grandparents are the "lost" crime
Law enforcement doesn't want to claim them because that means they
would have to take some responsibility for the mounting deaths and
injuries. They seem to wish the victims would just disappear, and too
often they do! Victims of pursuits disappear from state-mandated
reports since many chases ending in crashes are not classified as
"pursuit-related" if the crash occurred after a pursuit is
Law enforcement officials, including information in an FBI bulletin, reveal that the national figure, 386 deaths in 2002, is underreported. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration collects voluntary data on pursuit fatalities. California leads the nation with more than 100 people killed in 2001
This figure includes four dead in a Stockton school zone. A mother
was picking up her two daughters and a friend when a suspected car
thief fleeing police crashed into the mother's car.
(To view a video PSA of this tragedy, click here.
As if a loved one's death weren't bad enough, families share
stories of how law enforcement and even politicians respond with
silence, an effective weapon because it refuses to engage the issues.
California courts are useless since our state grants blanket immunity
to law enforcement agencies even if officers fail to follow their
policy. Cases don't even get to discovery and are summarily dismissed,
just like the victims.
Across the country, drivers who flee from the police have more rights than the innocent victims. Penalties vary from state to state with the most common sentence being probation, followed by parole. Our courts, all too often, do not hold fleeing drivers accountable for their actions either. Click here.
Because some believe pursuits are needed for property crimes and
traffic violations, Senate Bill 1403, also known as Kristie's Law, and
Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, the bill's author, have faced
criticism and political reprisal from law enforcement groups.
The senator understands that
saving lives is more important than law enforcement's coveted endorsement for
re-election. One thing is certain: Innocent victims of unnecessary police
pursuits will not disappear as easily as they have in the past.
Not so certain is whether California law enforcement will look for
more sophisticated ways to catch fleeing suspects. Departments in
Boston, Memphis, Florida, Illinois, Georgia, among many others, have
restrictive pursuit policies like the one proposed in SB1403, and they
Reviews of the outcome of these policies show that crime has not gone up and deaths have gone down.
Some California agencies have implemented similar policies with the
same positive results, but Sen. Aanestad says, "We need this bill
to get everyone on board; we need accountability."
The Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner established a model for
accountability that prevents officers from shooting a non-dangerous
Despite arguments to the contrary -- the same ones being lodged
against the immunity issue in SB1403 -- the safer firearm policy did
not hamper the police or burden the courts. No one should expect
anything less from this legislation if officers follow their stated
People who flee don't care about our safety; so protecting the
innocent falls on law enforcement. California usually leads the nation
with innovative ways to police; but while changes are being made
across the country, California is still suffering with outdated and
dangerous pursuit policies.
Police Chief Steven Jones of Florida talks about his changes:
"When we quit chasing stolen vehicles, our arrest and recovery
rate went way up because we thought 'out of the box.' No more chases,
no damaged cars, no injuries and no deaths!"
At a California Crime Victims' dinner, Orange County Sheriff
Michael Carona said, "Law enforcement collaborates on finding
solutions to problems."
One wonders when law enforcement will follow through with the
commitment they made during a Senate Judiciary hearing to collaborate
with Sen. Aanestad and make Kristie's Law the means to prevent a new
generation of innocent victims of pursuits.
Remember, fleeing suspects don't care; that's why we are counting
on law enforcement because when it comes to police pursuits, two
wrongs don't make it right. They make it deadly.
Candy Priano, of Chico, is the mother of innocent victim Kristina "Kristie" Priano. One minute, Kristie Priano was a 15-year-old honor student and community volunteer 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 hundreds who die each year across the nation from the violent crashes due to police pursuits. More than a third are innocent bystanders—just like Kristie.
What went wrong? The mother of a teenage girl called the police, complaining that her daughter was driving the family car without permission. She told the police where they could find her daughter. Within seconds, the chase was on through a residential neighborhood dotted with two-way stop signs (a violation of the Chico police pursuit policy). The teen and the police ignored the stop signs even though intersecting streets had the right of way. At the intersection of the fifth stop sign, the teen T-boned the family van directly where Kristie was sitting.
No one was held accountable: It took seven days for Kristie to die, but only a few hours for the police to send the teen home with her mother. She was not even arrested, only to later receive one year in juvenile hall and probation. Kristie died from a massive closed-head injury, a crushed brain stem, and extensive swelling that caused her brain to rupture.