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January 24, 2006

Editorial: Put to the test
Crash probe will show whether Orlando's chase policy is worthy.

FLORIDA—Orlando police Chief Mike McCoy is quick to express pride in his department's policy that strictly limits high-speed chases by officers. Now that policy is facing its first serious test.

Late Friday night one person was killed and six were injured when a suspect trying to escape from officers crashed into two cars. Bystanders said that officers in unmarked cars chased the suspect and didn't use their emergency blue lights before the crash. Those details still have not been confirmed.

Now Mr. McCoy's challenge is to prove that the pursuit policy is more than a collection of words.

Under that policy, officers are allowed only to pursue people suspected of committing "violent forcible felonies," such as a home invasion or homicide. They also are required to use emergency warning signals, such as flashing blue lights.

The purpose of those rules is to prevent officers from needlessly endangering the public by pursuing suspects for minor crimes. Many police agencies throughout the nation have embraced similar policies. Every year throughout the nation, police chases result in about 400 deaths.

So far Mr. McCoy has made the right move to keep the investigation objective by inviting an outside agency—the Florida Highway Patrol—to help examine the details of the crash.

The real test will come, though, if the investigation concludes that the officers violated the rules. Unless there is strong punishment for breaking the rules, the policy is worthless.

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