One wonders when law enforcement lobbyists will truly work
Senator Sam Aanestad to prevent future
Is your child's life worth a
broken tail light?
By Sam Aanestad
May 2, 2004
In the last few weeks, there has been a media
storm regarding my introduction of Senate Bill 1403 (formerly 1866),
Kristie's Law, regulating high-speed police pursuits in California. At
a recent California state Senate hearing on the bill, most of the major
law enforcement agencies in the state lined up in opposition to the
bill, while parents of victims and experts in pursuit research were in
support. In an attempt to inform the public about the intent of this
bill, I offer the following:
Kristie Priano's story
Two years ago, in my district, 15-year-old Kristie Priano was killed
as her family van was struck by a fleeing teenager who was being chased
on dark residential streets by the local police department. The tragedy
was compounded by the fact that the police knew who the teen was, where
she lived, and that the "crime" committed was taking her
mother's car without permission. It was a chase that never should have
The Priano family brought the matter to my attention, and what my
staff and I found out should scare the daylights out of everyone
Let me present a few facts: According to the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration, 51 Californians were killed in 2001 as a
result of police pursuits. That's one every week! Nationally, more than
one victim is killed every day! With approximately 6,000 high-speed
pursuits in California each year, about 1,000 of these chases end with
a collision, with hundreds of permanently disabling injuries.
California is No. 1 in deaths
California ranks No. 1 in deaths from pursuits, close to the
combined total of New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Florida! Texas was
a distant second with 30 deaths that year. The NHTSA states that,
"Injuries and deaths that result from law enforcement vehicle
crashes exceed those that result from armed confrontations."
Folks, we have a serious problem here.
Worse yet, statistics and research reveal that 63 percent of all
chases were initiated because of a vehicle code violation -- a broken
taillight, out-of-date license plate, speeding, or not wearing a seat
belt. Are those worth someone's life? Only 15 percent of all chased
drivers turn out to be people wanted for murder, rape, or armed
robbery. The rest were car thieves or traffic violators. That means
approximately 310 people nationally lose their lives because of a
high-speed pursuit initiated for relatively minor reasons.
Let's put to rest some of the myths used by law enforcement to
justify this "collateral damage," as described by one
high-ranking law officer, referring to California's death total in his
testimony presented at a recent California Senate hearing on this bill.
Myth No. 1: If someone flees, they are running because they are
criminals who have something dangerous to society to hide. Myth No. 2:
That a strict pursuit policy will encourage more people to flee, and
what we really need are stricter fines and punishment for those who do.
Sounds logical, but the data say it ain't so. Dr. Geoff Alpert, a
criminologist on faculty at the University of South Carolina, is one of
the world's leading experts on police pursuits and the use of lethal
force in law enforcement. In his book, "Police Pursuits: What We
Know," he writes that the data "show that most offenders flee
because they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol." (Just
what we need -- a drunken driver in a high-speed pursuit.) Further, Dr.
Alpert found that, "while officers believed that more suspects
would run if departments had stricter pursuit policies, suspects
maintained that they would continue to avoid the police at all costs.
Thus, the punishment does not deter suspects from fleeing."
Policies don't have to be followed
The major problem is that there is no statewide standard for
high-speed pursuits. Every law enforcement agency has to have a pursuit
policy so they can have blanket immunity from lawsuits, but, incredible
as it seems, there is no law requiring that agency to follow those
policies. Early last month, the San Francisco Police Department was
involved in a pursuit that ended in a fatality, only to find that in
1997, San Francisco had already adopted a pursuit policy that would
have prevented this chase from happening. The officers involved,
including the supervisor, stated they weren't aware the policy even
No wonder that the 4th District Court of Appeal urged the
Legislature to "reconsider the balance between public entity
immunity and public safety." Justice William Rylaarsdam lamented
that, unfortunately, adoption of a policy that may never be implemented
is cold comfort to innocent bystanders who get in the way of a police
I do need to point out that some California agencies (namely, Los
Angeles Police Department and Orange County Sheriff's Department) have
recently adopted stricter pursuit standards with dramatic safety
results, and are to be commended. But, unfortunately, hundreds of
California law enforcements agencies have not, despite the rising
number of injury and deaths.
It is interesting to note that California's Commission on Police
Officer Standards and Training (POST) requires eight hours of training
for a recruit to use his/her baton (the club they carry with them), and
at least 64 hours of firearm/arrest training, including a two-hour
requirement on how to properly clean their gun. Yet, there is only a
two-hour requirement for pursuit training -- total!
Many years ago, the California Legislature passed very strict
regulations on the use of guns in police situations. Simply stated, the
new standard said that a peace officer could only use his gun if
someone's life was in danger. You could no longer shoot at a fleeing
suspect who had just robbed the corner store unless he was wielding a
weapon and posing a direct threat to someone.
Law enforcement rigorously opposed the new regulations, citing all
the dire consequences of "tying the hands of law
enforcement." Yet, years later, every law enforcement leader will
say that those laws drastically improved public safety.
My bill will set a statewide standard for police pursuits. For the
past year, my staff has searched the literature on pursuits; we have
had dozens of contacts with law enforcement agencies in many states,
counties and cities that have adopted strict pursuits policies, with
remarkable decreases (60 percent to 80 percent) in pursuit injuries and
When the Florida Highway Patrol adopted strict policies on pursuits
in 1997, there was intense resistance from its officers. But a 62
percent reduction of accidents without an increase in crime has
prompted a change in attitude, best put by one officer who said,
"There are better and safer ways than a high-speed pursuit to
bring someone to justice." We have put most of the best of their
policies in this bill to create a single statewide standard for all
After so much research, after too many letters and phone calls from
the grieving families of innocent victims, for me, it's become very
simple. I hold my beautiful granddaughter in my arms and ask,
"What is her life worth -- a broken taillight? A stolen car? A bag
of money? Of course not! She's not "collateral damage."
Every one of those innocent victims who will die or be maimed is
somebody's grandchild, and as a California state senator who has the
ability to do something about this carnage, I become their surrogate
grandfather, and it's my responsibility to protect them the best way I
Other law enforcement agencies nationwide have found that chasing
someone is usually not the best way, but rather, the worst way.
California must get up to date. Kristie is gone, but she will not have
died in vain. Kristie's Law will save lives. And that's what it's all
-- State Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, wrote Senate Bill 1403
(formerly SB 1866) to curb police pursuits in California.