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Editorial: Police pursuits need adjusting
Law may lower number of crashes

Ventura County Star Editorial

June 16, 2005--California law-enforcement agencies can do more to reduce the number of dangerous high-speed chases they are involved in each year, but a decision Sunday to call off a chase that started in Agoura Hills is encouraging and demonstrates the importance of restraint, under some circumstances.

The chase began at about 6 p.m. when a Los Angeles California Highway Patrol officer attempted to pull over a driver for not wearing a seat belt on Highway 101. The driver fled northbound and a pursuit, which at times reached 100 mph, was on. However, it was called off because of the risk to public safety. CHP spokesman Steve Reid told Star reporter Maria Gonzalez, "It was definitely a dangerous situation."

The Star wrote earlier this year in support of Senate Bill 718 -- Kristie's Law -- to create a statewide policy ensuring vehicle pursuits are conducted in the safest and most effective way possible. The bill was named after Kristie Priano, 15, of Chico, who was killed in 2002 during a police pursuit, prompted by a chase of another 15-year-old girl who stole her mother's vehicle and crashed into the Priano vehicle.

SB718 never made it out of committee this year. Another bill, SB719, that addresses police pursuits is still under consideration by the Legislature, but it does not go as far as SB718 in striving to reduce chases and holding law enforcement accountable for following a pursuit policy. We encourage SB718 author, state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, not to give up on his needed legislation and to continue to work with law enforcement to craft an effective bill.

Of course, it would be foolish to ban high-speed chases altogether, but they can and should be curbed.

In April, a Camarillo father of six, on his way to the golf course, was broadsided and killed by a fleeing driver. That deadly pursuit, prompted by a driver switching lanes in front of a sheriff's deputy in Camarillo, lasted all of 90 seconds.

Clearly, there is very little value in chasing marginal offenders -- a seat-belt violation is a prime example -- when compared to the dangers associated with hot pursuits.

Too many innocent people, law-enforcement officers included, have been killed and injured as a result of well-intentioned attempts to serve justice. Unfortunately, the number of vehicle chases keeps going up in California -- 5,895 in 2001; 6,337 in 2002; and 7,203 in 2003.

Of the 7,203 chases in 2003, 1,049 resulted in collisions, which killed 33 people and injured 1,106. Of the 33 fatalities, 11 were innocent victims. That is too high a price to pay for chasing some minor offenders.

It should be noted that in Sunday's incident, the CHP later resumed the pursuit after a woman riding in the speeding car called 911 asking for help. The speeding driver, a 30-year-old Reseda man, was eventually caught. In referring to the 911 call, Officer Reid said: "We don't know if this person is being held against her will. The bottom line is this takes it above the level of a traffic violation." Oftentimes, to chase or not to chase is a split-second decision made under trying conditions. But, this much is certain: A pursuit policy of "if it runs, chase it" no longer has a place in law enforcement.

We support and appreciate the dangerous work performed daily by law enforcement assigned to our communities. As demonstrated Sunday, there are times when officers must weigh the risk of a chase versus the benefit of catching a lawbreaker. A law that calls for accountability for law enforcement involved in chases can help add weight to the risk side of that equation.


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