Advocacy – Older Articles

UNDER RECONSTRUCTION <:)

 

Here are a collection of articles from the old PaulFarris.org site.

Other advocacy stories in the news

 

USA Today Police Pursuit Editorial 8/6/2015:  Curtail deadly Police Chases: Our View

Most of them start because of a misdemeanor, traffic infraction or non-violent felony.

Police typically dismiss these deaths as the tragic consequence of illegal actions by fleeing drivers. But the majority of police chases are not in hot pursuit of violent felons who are a danger to the public if they get away.

Data from the International Association of Chiefs of Police show that out of 17,000 chase records across the country since 2001, 92% of them started because of a misdemeanor, traffic infraction or non-violent felony such as car theft. The investigation by USA TODAY’s Thomas Frank identified examples of police chases this year, in which innocent bystanders were killed, that were started because a driver ran a red light, was an alleged shoplifter or had the car’s headlights off.

Police have long known of the dangers of such chases. In 1990, the Justice Department called chases the “most dangerous of all ordinary police activities” and urged police departments to avoid many of them. Despite the warning, chase-related deaths topped more than 300 in 2013, nearly the same number as in 1990. In California alone, more than 14,000 highway patrol chases from 2007 through 2014 left 103 dead and 2,198 injured, primarily because 28% of chases ended in a crash.

There are two ways to reduce this bloody toll.

One is for police to use more discretion in whom they chase.

But many police departments have resisted this approach because officers don’t know when a stolen vehicle, or a person driving with lights off or speeding, is a sign of a more serious crime. Law enforcement officials also worry that if they back off of chasing suspects, criminals are likely to take it as an invitation to lawlessness.

Those worries are overblown. Among cities that have restricted chases, Milwaukee has seen car thefts go up, but FBI data show that Dallas, Phoenix and Orlando have all had significant decreases in crime.

The second way to curb dangerous chases is to make greater use of technological alternatives, just the way that body cameras and dashcam videos are becoming more widespread methods of documenting interactions between law enforcement officers and the public.

Tire spikes remain the most prevalent method of stopping a chase. Emerging technologies include GPS tracking devices that can be attached to fleeing vehicles, and a microwave gun that would turn off a car’s engine remotely. These technologies hold considerable promise but face hurdles involving reliability and cost.

Until these options become widespread, agencies need to be far more selective about whom they chase.  As a recent White House report on police shootings put it, “Law enforcement should embrace a guardian — rather than a warrior — mindset.”

That means putting the lives of innocent bystanders first, even if the arrest of a minor offender has to wait.


4/2015 letter to Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Police Chief Edward Flynn, Ald. Bob Donovan clash over pursuit policy

http://www.jsonline.com/news/crime/chief-edward-flynn-ald-bob-donovan-clash-over-pursuit-policy-b99476941z1- 298965921.html

Hi Ashley,

Thanks for the interesting article about Alderman Donovan pressing Chief Flynn to reinstitute extremely dangerous police chase pursuits for stolen vehicles. It seems so very counterintuitive. Perhaps the alderman believes it makes a good campaign platform, but I hope not.

I previously wrote an op ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/police-must-balance-enforcement-with-safety-in-high-speed-pursuits-b99358520z1-277306771.html

PursuitSAFETY strongly supports the Chief for his safety-minded approach to reducing dangerous and unnecessary pursuits. Stolen vehicles can be replaced. Smart policing policies allow law enforcement to recover vehicles safely, without chases. New technology provides law enforcement with even safer ways to apprehend criminals. Lost lives as a result of police pursuits gone wrong cannot be replaced.

Reinstating stolen vehicle pursuits in Milwaukee will most certainly endanger innocent citizens, bystanders and police officers. These dangerous pursuits will also create extensive liability exposures (lawsuits) for the city. This is foolish and unnecessary.

By eliminating chases for stolen vehicles, Police Chief Flynn has created a safer environment for Milwaukee residents. Shouldn’t this existing policy be the platform that Alderman Donovan embraces rather than endangering Milwaukee residents so a handful of joyriders can be captured?

Members of PursuitSAFETY, most of whom have lost a loved one as an innocent victim in a police chase, suggest that Alderman Donovan reassesses his stance and support Chief Flynn.

Thank you and best regards,

Jon


  • Jon Farris speaks on ABC World News again. August 20, 2014. See video here 
  • Paul’s dad, Jon Farris, Chairman of PursuitSAFETY, speaks on ABC World News – June 19, 2014.
    See video
    here.

9/2014 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Op-Ed by Jon Farris, Chairman of PursuitSAFETY:

Sent 9/24/2014:

Dear Mr. Haynes,

Attached please find my thoughts and commentary on the Milwaukee Police Department’s pursuit policy and the 2014 increase in Milwaukee vehicle thefts.

As a Wisconsin resident (ex-Milwuakee area and currently Madison), as the grieving father of a son killed in an unnecessary misdemeanor traffic violation police pursuit, and as the Chairman of PursuitSAFETY, I view pursuits with a different eye than many. I believe PursuitSAFETY’s and my perspective balance the needs of law enforcement with the critical necessity to protect innocent citizens and police officers.

The Milwaukee Police Department is certainly not the only law enforcement agency grappling with the issue and outcomes of pursuits. This has grown into a contentious subject in cities across the country and, in fact, in countries throughout the world. This is a societal matter that the Journal-Sentinel and media outlets across the country will have opportunities to support and influence positive, life saving changes through more intelligent vehicular pursuit policies and increased use of new technology.

The intent of the piece is to encourage violent felony only pursuit policies and encourage elected officials to support law enforcement with creative and new solutions.

I appreciate your consideration and please feel free to contact me directly should you have any questions.

Best regards,

Jon

Title: Police Pursuits: Balancing Law Enforcement with Public and Officer Safety

Following several tragedies stemming from high-speed chases, Milwaukee Police Department evision resulted in a significant reduction in accidents and the number of persons injured (from 19 to 7) during the evaluation period. In addition, no police officers were injured in pursuits subsequent to the revision compared to five officers that suffered injuries during the same time period prior to the policy change.1So this change was obviously a great success, right?

Well there are citizens and, very likely, police officers who would disagree. Criminals, mostly teens, are creating a surge in vehicle-related crime in 2014. This is somewhat unusual given that the pursuit policy was revised in 2010, but perhaps that lag is due to criminals only recently exploiting the situation.Pursuits are highly risky and come with a huge toll measured too often in lives lost, painful injuries and multi-million dollar lawsuits that drain taxpayer funds. The National Institute of Justice estimates that one out of every one hundred high-speed pursuits results in a fatality and Federal Bureau of Investigations data shows that 55,000 people are injured annually as a result of pursuits. Other studies indicate that there is, on average, a pursuit-related fatality daily and one third of those are innocent victims.

This year, communities including Antelope, CA; Flint, MI; Kansas City, MO; and Houston, TX have been rocked by pursuit-related incidents that have killed many innocent bystanders.Milwaukee criminals are definitely stealing more vehicles this year. Milwaukee police officers are still restricted in their ability to pursue solely for vehicle theft. So, with limited means of enforcement, what

First, the continued quality investigative work by the Milwaukee Police Department has allowed them to recover most stolen vehicles. According to the Journal-Sentinel, As of July 5, 85% of stolen cars in 2014 had been recovered. Two-thirds of those recovered cars had minor or no damage, suggesting they were used for joy riding.

Second, there are tools that enable police to apprehend suspects without resorting to a chase. Cities in a dozen states including Austin, Texas and St. Petersburg, Florida have implemented a technology that enables law enforcement to tag and then track fleeing vehicles with a GPS device launched from the front grill of their cruisers. Using GPS tagging is one example of an excellent tool that allows police to safely apprehend these criminals without the need for a dangerous chase.

Pursuit alternatives and technology requires investment, which some resourceful police departments have been able to address by accessing government grants. Funding is limited, however, and there are many competing demands from police departments nationwide which depend on these grants for tools and training. Law enforcement, the media and the public must push and educate our local and national legislators to do their part by making existing funds and grants available for training and technologies aimed at saving innocent citizensMilwaukee officials took a huge step by limiting pursuits for violent felonies and for that I applaud them, but limited pursuit policies are not the only long-term solution for law enforcement. Police must balance public interest and safety while still enforcing the law, and making funds available for pursuit training and technology must be a priority for policymakers to address.
1. Analysis of March 26, 2010 MPD Vehicle Pursuit Policy Revision. Kristin Kappelman, Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission
Jonathan Farris is Chairman of PursuitSAFETY; a national non-profit dedicated to saving innocent victim and police officer deaths by reducing unnecessary police pursuits for non-violent felonies. His son, Paul, was an innocent victim killed during a police chase, which began as the result of a misdemeanor traffic violation

ACLU weighs in on GPS tracking devices

“GPS Bullets” Allow Police to Shoot a Tracker Onto a Car

01/22/2014

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:54am

We’ve started getting a few calls asking us what we think of new GPS tracking devices that police can shoot at a car that they are pursuing from a launcher mounted to the front grille of their car. The device sticks to the car, allowing the police to track the location of the vehicle until they catch up with it. (See press stories here and here.)

I don’t see any problem with this technology, assuming that it is used in the kind of way that everybody probably imagines it being used. In other words, that:

It is used only in police chases that commence when a police officer has the equivalent of probable cause of wrongdoing (even if just fleeing a temporary detention like a traffic stop) and do not have time to get a warrant.
The device is removed and the location tracking ends the first time the police catch up to the person they are chasing.
The police catch up to the suspect as soon as they can (in other words, no letting them wander around for extended periods of time without pursuing them, in order to learn things about them).
Any other uses of GPS tracking technology outside the heat of a chase should require a warrant.

And on the other side of the equation, this has the potential to obviate the need for high-speed pursuits by police cars through cities and towns, which are very dangerous and kill hundreds each year, with a third or more of those fatalities being innocent bystanders.

As with all technologies, of course, its effects will be more complicated than many expect because suspects won’t likely be passive but will change their behavior in response to the technology. I would imagine that quickly people being chased by the police would realize that they have no hope of escape unless they somehow get that device off their car, and will respond accordingly with whatever strategies they can create. On the other hand, fleeing police is generally a desperate and foolish thing to do, so perhaps the “target audience” for this technology won’t be thinking very clearly. In any case, that’s a practical concern; as a civil liberties matter I don’t see any problem with this technology if used as expected.


CODE BLUE
Police Pursuits Cost A Life A Day

By Jacob Fuller Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Original article

“All units, Ridgeland PD in pursuit. Gray Crown Victoria on lower (Spillway) Road, request assistance,” a voice said over the police scanner from Reservoir Control tower.

“They’re going about, looks like 90-plus (miles per hour) right now,” said another voice over the radio.

“It’s a gray Grand Marquis, gray Grand Marquis.”

Ridgeland police sped after suspects down Spillway Road, from Ridgeland to Flowood, on the morning of Feb. 5.

The cool, late-morning reservoir air rushed over their cruisers as Reservoir Patrol, Rankin County Sheriff’s deputies and Flowood police responded to the news that the high-speed chase was quickly headed to their jurisdictions.

The chase continued down Spillway Road, with Rankin County officers joining the pursuit. Within minutes, the Grand Marquis turned onto Highway 25 in Flowood, and passed Pinelake Church, Good Shepherd and St. Paul’s Catholic churches, headed southwest at close to 100 mph through two school zones, with police and sheriff’s cruisers close behind.

“Going to kill somebody, might want to back off of him,” a voice said over the police scanner.

“Do not get in the way of this suspect,” another voice said.

Less than three seconds later, the words became prophetic.

“10-50, Grants Ferry at 25,” an officer’s voice said, signifying that the Grand Marquis had crashed into another car.

Milinda Clark was driving her beige, ’90s-model Nissan Altima on Grants Ferry Road, returning to Pinelake Church where she attended the early service, to pick up her two children from Sunday School.

Clark saw a green light that signaled it was safe to cross the southbound lanes of Highway 25 at the busy Grants Ferry intersection and merge onto the northbound side of the highway.

The gray Grand Marquis that led police on a high-speed chase for a little more than seven miles, from Kroger in Ridgeland to the intersection of Highway 25 and Grants Ferry, did not let Clark get through the light.

The front bumper of the Grand Marquis met the driver’s side door of Clark’s Altima at nearly 100 miles per hour. The social worker and 38-year-old mother of two died at the hospital later that day.

The Felony Conundrum
Jennifer Ford and Robert Williams, the suspects in the Grand Marquis that killed Milinda Clark that Sunday morning, had attempted to steal two grocery carts full of beer, meat and other food, worth $566.36, from the Kroger on Old Canton Road in Ridgeland, according to the Ridgeland Police investigative report.

Williams never made it out of the store with his cart before an employee stopped him. A store manager detained Ford just outside the front door of the store, but let her go when he saw Ridgeland police arrive. Both suspects left the carts of food and went to their car.

Sgt. Chad was the first on the scene. At that time, according to the Ridgeland Police Department, the commanding officer thought he witnessed Williams try to hit an officer with the vehicle.

The commanding officer then gave police clearance to pursue the fleeing suspects. At the time of print, police have not confirmed the identity of the commanding officer who approved the pursuit, due to the ongoing investigation in the Ridgeland Police Department.

So why did Ridgeland police deem it necessary to chase two shoplifting suspects, neither of whom got away with any stolen goods, at speeds up to 100 miles per hour?

The Mississippi Department of Standards and Training offers three suggested policies for pursuit in the state.

Each law enforcement agency must adopt a policy based on what they determine best fits their jurisdiction; however, laws do not require individual policies to adhere to one of the three suggested policies (see below.)

The Ridgeland department has a restrictive policy on pursuits, meaning that its officers are only allowed to chase in cases of a violent felony, a felony by someone who is unidentified and is in a vehicle that does not have identifying plates, or a criminal who demonstrates a serious and immediate threat to the public.

The department reported that the suspects’ Grand Marquis did not have a license plate. Attempting to shoplift $566.36 worth of groceries is a felony (the minimum amount to constitute a felony is $500), but the officers could not know the value of the goods Williams and Ford attempted to shoplift until after the pursuit began.

Presumably, then, it was the commanding officer’s belief that Williams was trying to hit an officer with his car, along with the absence of a license plate on the Grand Marquis and lack of identification on the suspects, that warranted the high-speed chase under Ridgeland’s policy.

Ridgeland Police Chief Jimmy Houston said that when a car does not have plates, it hinders the law enforcement officers from being able to track the car later, making a pursuit necessary.

“The Supreme Court has said that there are times when a pursuit would actually be justifiable, and that is during a time when there has been a violent felony committed, when there is no opportunity for you to know who that person is. And you may pursue, if you weigh those issues,” Houston told the Jackson Free Press.

In Mississippi, fleeing from the police “in such a manner as to indicate a reckless or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property” is a felony.

Houston said that some courts have said that fleeing from police is a violent act itself. So even if Williams had not, or did not, attempt to hit an officer with his car, Houston believes a chase may still have been warranted under Ridgeland’s policy.

The family of Milinda Clark wants to be sure the actions of Williams and Ford that morning did, in fact, warrant the pursuit that ended in Milinda’s death.

Attorney Ashley Ogden, who represents Clark’s children and her estate, sent a notice-of-claim letter Feb. 29 to the Ridgeland city clerk and the mayor requesting that the city investigate the actions of the Ridgeland police officers involved in the pursuit.

Clark’s family has declined comment due to the pending lawsuit.

Under the Mississippi Torts Claims Act, which lays out how citizens can sue cities, the city has 90 days to investigate the claims made in the letter.

After 90 days, the city must either inform Ogden that the Ridgeland police did something wrong and offer to settle for the wrongdoing, or say that Ridgeland Police broke no laws or policies.

In that case, the children and the estate must sue the city of Ridgeland if they wish to collect damages.

The Thrill of the Chase
Candy Priano, her husband, Mark, and her daughter, Kristie, were on their way to Kristie’s high school basketball game in Chico, Calif., in Candy’s minivan in January 2002. About the same time, another teenage girl decided to take her mom’s car for a joyride without permission.

The joyrider’s mother called the police and asked them to be on the lookout for her daughter, whom she believed would be at a friend’s house, and asked police to bring her home.

When police spotted the joyrider and turned on their blue lights, the young woman didn’t stop. She led police on a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood, where the Prianos were headed to Kristie’s basketball game.

The chase soon ended, and the joyriding teenager returned home to her parents later that day, but without the car, which she had buried in the side of the Prianos’ minivan. The collision left Kristie Priano, a 15-year-old avid community volunteer, dead.

Candy Priano could not accept that her daughter had been killed because police were chasing a teenager whose only crime was taking her mother’s car for a joyride. Priano knew someone was responsible for Kristie’s death, and the police were the only adults involved.

“So many of these chases are unnecessary,” Priano said. “They’re unnecessary because there are other ways to catch these drivers who do flee from the police, and there are drivers, in some cases, who are not posing an immediate threat to public safety. … Are (the suspects) going to pull over appropriately? Chances are they aren’t. We can’t trust these people to do the right thing, so we have to put our trust in the police to do the right thing and to say, ‘How else can I catch these drivers, rather than chasing them?'”

In Priano’s case, there was a question of whether the teen had even committed a crime before the police got involved. Sure, the car was not in the teen’s name, and she had taken it without permission, but how many courts will charge a teenager with a crime for taking her mother’s car for a ride to a friend’s house?

Had the police not gotten involved, the young woman likely would have returned home later that day, possibly to a scolding by her parents. And Kristie Priano would still be alive.

Candy Priano wanted to know why police would pursue a fleeing teenager through a residential neighborhood for taking her mother’s car. At least one expert says it may be about the thrill of the chase.

Robert Homant, who has taught criminal justice at the University of Detroit Mercy since 1978 and previously served as a prison psychologist for eight years, has published studies on his research of police pursuits. His work shows that the thrill of the chase often affects officers’ decisions and puts them in situations where they can endanger innocent bystanders.

“There is a tendency for personality factors such as sensation seeking to affect the quickness, let us say, with which an officer pursued, broke off pursuit (or) followed policy,” Homant said.

Some people enjoy adrenaline rushes, while other don’t, Homant said. Those who do are more likely to interpret possible pursuit situations as ones that warrant a chase.

“It’s not as if you’re going against policy, so much as you’re interpreting the situation differently,” Homant said.

“I’ve had officers admit to me that it was hard to break off chases that they knew they should break off. After they broke them off, they said, ‘Well, yeah I did the right thing by not pursuing further, but at the time, it was difficult to do that.’ And they described it as not wanting to be beaten by the person that was eluding (them).”

Determining whether sensation seeking was a factor in an individual pursuit situation is almost impossible, Homant said. Officers, though, should be trained to be aware of the adrenaline rush and how they are likely to react to it.

The key is to train officers in pursuit policy, and train them often. “It needs to be clear what the policy is,” Homant said. “When you do (review policies often), most police officers are fairly good about simply following policy. They’re happy to break off pursuits, if that’s what the policy is,” Homant said.

So was it an errant policy or an adrenaline rush clouding an officer’s interpretation of a good policy that led to Kristie Priano’s death? Wanting an answer to that question and hoping to keep other parents from ever having to ask it was why Candy Priano, along with family members of other police-pursuit victims, started Voices Insisting on PursuitSAFETY, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing laws, policies and practices of police pursuits.

Since 2007, Voices has talked to numerous state legislatures, police departments and victims to educate them on just how dangerous police chases can be. The group wants more restrictive policies and laws enacted involving police pursuits and tougher penalties for officers who violate the policies. They have had little success in convincing lawmakers.

Finding the statistics to show the danger proved more difficult than Priano had initially expected. “There is no mandatory reporting (of pursuit-related deaths),” Voices co-founder Jon Farris said. “Some agencies report, some don’t, but you see it every day.”

To counter the problem, Voices has a new top priority—to create the first nationwide database of deaths caused by police pursuits and call responses. Priano has tracked the deaths using Google on a daily basis since 2004, and Farris joined her in 2007.

Since last year, their data (which could be incomplete) show that an average of seven people die as a result of police chases and call responses in America every week— a death every day. At least one-third of those deaths are innocent bystanders.

“We’ll continue to just input that (data) until we have a full 12 months, and then until we have a couple of calendar years,” Farris said. “The biggest challenge is we don’t have resources. We’re a nonprofit. The monies that we have are solely donations, and the vast majority of the donations we get are from families who have been affected.”

Voices for PursuitSAFETY organizers argue that even one death outweighs the positives of chasing suspects and criminals. Priano said they have received positive responses from law enforcement and even have three officers, including police chiefs Richard Schardan of Maryville, Ill., and Timothy Dolan of Minneapolis, Minn., on their advisory board. They hope to see law enforcement search for new ways to track down suspects, ways that do not involve high-speed chases and endangering the lives of innocent civilians.

The organization rewards officers who find other ways to catch suspects with their yearly Safer Way Award. “The best way to catch is good detective work. (It’s) how many officers catch most of these suspects,” Priano said.

Homant said that new technologies, especially in well-funded agencies, have helped make many pursuits unnecessary since his first research in the late 1980s. High-resolution cameras can capture license-plate numbers and help identify suspects, and easy-to-access information about suspects’ criminal histories helps officers catch suspects without vehicular pursuits. Tools like stop sticks—strips of spikes that puncture tires—can stop fleeing vehicles without a pursuit.

“Those people who believe pursuits are important have alternative ways of catching people or alternative ways of stopping eluding cars other than just pursuing them and chasing them down,” Homant said.

Access to those alternatives have lessened the need for chases since Homant began his research more than 20 years ago, but for the families of the dozens of innocent victims who are killed every year in America, chases are still too common.

Leaving Scars and Injuries
Jon Farris co-founded Voices after his son, Paul, died as he and his girlfriend were about to exit a taxi in a residential neighborhood in Somerville, Mass., a densely populated Boston suburb.

The 4.2-square-mile town has a population of 75,754, or 18,147 residents per square mile. (By comparison, Ridgeland has a population density of 1,352 residents per square mile.) Most residential roads in Somerville are lined with parked cars. Because of this, Somerville Police have a strict policy against pursuing fleeing suspects.

But during the early morning of May 28, 2007, a state trooper saw an SUV make an illegal turn at a stop sign, and the officer turned on his blue lights. Javier Morales, with his pregnant girlfriend in the passenger seat of the SUV, didn’t stop for the officer and began speeding through Somerville’s crowded streets. The state trooper was not bound by Somerville Police’s policy and pursued Morales down residential roads.

Paul Farris, his girlfriend, Kate Hoyt, and the taxi driver, Walid Chahine, were sitting in one of the many cars parked on the side of the road in one of Somerville’s neighborhoods. As Farris exited the taxi, Morales lost control of the SUV and smashed the front end into the side of the cab. Farris died that morning. Chahine died later due to injuries suffered in the accident. Hoyt spent the next few weeks in intensive care, the next few months in the hospital, and will spend the rest of her life with scars and injuries that will never heal.

With no uniform policy or regulations and a lack of radio communications between police agencies, the Somerville Police Department’s policy, which officers put into place to protect citizens, was ineffective in preventing Farris’ death. When one agency makes a policy, it only affects that agency.

Chief Houston said that his department will assist in pursuits that enter their jurisdiction by setting up road blocks and laying stop sticks, also known as spike strips. They will not, however, join in the chase unless the department determines it is allowed under Ridgeland’s policy, he said. That decision, though, must be made quickly by the commanding officer on duty without the benefit of hindsight (such as knowledge of whether the cart contained enough groceries to render it a felony).

The inconsistency in policy and lack of communication is where many pursuit problems arise. Though a highway patrol officer should know the area in which he or she works, police are too often unaware of local law enforcement policies. And because, in many cases, different agencies do not have access to each other’s radio wavelength, patrolmen are unable to immediately communicate with other agencies.

Individual agencies’ policies are rendered ineffective when contradicting policies exist in overlapping jurisdictions, such as a sheriff’s department with a different police than the local police department. Law enforcement officers are only subject to the rules and policies of their agency, and when those policies differ from neighboring or overlapping agencies, the results can be disastrous.

The problem of unshared wavelengths is one reason the state is implementing the Mississippi Wireless Integrated Network. Under the direction of Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, the group is implementing a statewide radio wavelength that will allow officers from different agencies to communicate with one another from their patrol vehicles at the touch of a button. Several cities and regions across the state are already using the radios, including most of the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River regions, as well as the Ridgeland Police Department.

“Everybody in our area should be able to talk on the same police channel,” Houston said. “We talk to Madison (Police Department). We talk to Madison (Sheriff’s Office). We can talk to Holmes Community College. We can talk to Reservoir Patrol. But we cannot talk to Rankin (Sheriff’s Office). We can’t talk to Flowood (Police Department). We can’t talk to Brandon (Police Department). And that is an issue,” Houston said. (They can also talk to Jackson.)

Houston said access to the MSWIN system should be available statewide by the beginning of 2013. Buying the radios to get on the system isn’t cheap, but Houston said grants are available from the state to assist counties that wish to get on the system. The Jackson Police Department has installed the system.

With such a system in place, it will be easier for officers crossing jurisdictional borders to communicate and adjust their plans accordingly, but when pursuits have started, officers are still only accountable to their agency’s policy.

Even with heightened communicative abilities, the inconsistencies in pursuit policy can still cause confusion, because a chase that is warranted in one jurisdiction may not be what is best for the people in a community that the chase enters. When that is the case, the chase often ends in tragedy in that community, as it did in the chase that killed Milinda Clark.

A Toothless Statewide Policy?
Robin McCoy, Dana Lee and their friend, Steven Bledsoe, died as the result of a Florence police pursuit in February 2001. The girls were riding in a Lexus with their friend, Corey Tate, who had stolen the car from Herrin-Gear Lexus in Jackson.

After officers spotted Tate speeding, they followed him to the parking lot of an Amoco gas station on Highway 49. Tate gave one of the officers his driver’s license and the vehicle’s identification number.

Tate’s driver’s license was suspended, and the officer intended to arrest him for the charge. When he asked Tate to step out of the vehicle, Tate locked the doors and sped away.

The officers involved knew the make, model, description and identification number of the stolen vehicle. They had Tate’s driver’s license. They knew Tate had three passengers in the car with him. Yet they pursued Tate in a high-speed chase that resulted in the deaths of all three passengers. Tate survived.

Robin McCoy’s parents, Linda and Larry McCoy, sued the state of Mississippi, the cities of Florence and Richland, the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and Tate for their involvement in the chase. They did not win any of their lawsuits, but their fight in the courtroom, as well as their visits and presentations to several state legislatures across the nation, got the attention of then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

Musgrove appointed Linda McCoy as the only civilian on a commission with police and sheriff’s officers assigned with the task of suggesting a state law pertaining to police pursuits. “What they found was that in every jurisdiction, you basically had a different police-pursuit policy,” Larry McCoy said. “And there was no standardized method of training.”

Chief Houston, who testified before the Legislature on behalf of the commission’s bill, said the commission did what the state agencies needed at the time.

It brought about a knowledge of the fact that there actually needs to be something governing pursuits in the state of Mississippi,” Houston said. “The (policies) that we brought were Mississippi-specific.”

In 2004, then-Gov. Haley Barbour signed the commission-recommended bill into law. “We were blessed to be at the ceremony—and the commission did make the recommendation,” Linda McCoy said.

“However, they didn’t put any teeth in the law. There was no punishment for a department that did not put those policies in place.”

Houston said a uniform punishment was not needed. When the state Legislature enacts a law, 99 percent of agencies in the state will adhere to it, he said.

The commission did manage to make the punishment for those who flee the police more severe. Before the law the commission recommended passed, fleeing from police was a misdemeanor in Mississippi. Part of the new law elevated flight with a willful or reckless disregard for safety to a felony offense.

“Police officers are putting all of the burden on the person who is fleeing, and he does deserve a great bit of the burden, but the commission also said the police officers would get police pursuit training,” Linda McCoy said.

“They didn’t say what kind of training. They didn’t make any uniform laws.”

“They have no standards that any police officer or police department has to meet. It is up to the discretion of all of the police officers’ captains, or whatever, to train their police officers (in) what to do during a police chase.”

The law also failed to set a uniform regulation for when and why officers can pursue suspects. Individual agencies must adopt a policy on pursuits, but they are free to write whatever policy they choose.

Similar laws are common among states with large rural areas. Densely populated urban areas often adopt stricter pursuit policies than rural areas, making it hard to get legislators and agencies to agree on a statewide policy, Homant said.

A 1997 National Institute of Justice showed a direct connection between policy and the number of pursuits. In the study, police in the Miami-Dade, Fla., metro area, where a more restrictive policy had been implemented, showed a decrease from 279 pursuits the year before the policy chance to just 51 the year after. In Omaha, Neb., where a police implemented a more permissive policy, pursuits jumped from 17 the year before the change to 122 the year after.

Houston said that he trains his officers once a year on pursuit policy and practice. Policy needs to be reviewed as often as monthly, Homant said, to assure officers’ adrenaline in the heat of the moment does not cloud their interpretation of what they have learned. The more often the policy reminders, the less likely officers are to break policy to pursue a suspect.

While the Mississippi law did not lay out punishment for agencies or officers who fail to follow their implemented policies, Houston said other laws provide deterrents to breaking the policies. The Tort Claims Act provides citizens the ability to challenge the legality of officers’ actions during a chase and the ability to sue the city or department if they disagree about the presence of wrongdoing.

“Attorneys love to see (policy violations), because that shows that department went outside the law to make a pursuit,” Houston said.

Of course, those lawsuits often come after a pursuit results in injury or a death.

A Costly Problem—and Solution
Milinda Clark’s family is in process of using the Tort Claims Act to find out whether the Ridgeland Police Department followed their policy in chasing Ford and Williams. By the end of May, they will find out if the city of Ridgeland believes officers followed the policy. If the Ridgeland Police Department believes the officers followed the policy, the city will likely have a lawsuit on their hands, because once the city finds no wrongdoing, a lawsuit is the Clark family’s only possible further course of action.

The Clark family could receive damages, but what pursuit victims’ families would prefer is to have their loved ones alive and well. They would rather there be an answer before the problems arise. Not damages after the fact.

The MSWIN statewide communications system should help prevent deaths by providing instant, easy-to-use communication between agencies.

Elsewhere in the country, law enforcement agencies are implementing technology that could help prevent the chases altogether. Like police helicopters, which aid many large cities in pursuits, the available technology is not cheap, however.

In Los Angeles, police introduced the StarChase Pursuit Management System in 2006. Once on the front of police cruisers, the system can fire a GPS tracking devise, guided by a laser aiming mechanism, onto fleeing vehicles when police have a suspect in range. The GPS unit gives police the ability to track the suspects without having to keep them in site at the risk of endangering civilians.

While the system is a great tool, most cities cannot afford it. On the StarChase website, each tracking devise costs $249.99, the chargers cost $29.95 and individual tracking projectiles are $525. The website does not list the cost of the GPS launcher, which has to be installed on patrol cars by a StarChase employee, but according to an article on the website, the entire system costs about $4,500 per car.

“It’s not (inexpensive), but it’s worth every dime that you pay for it,” Houston said. “We’re ready for it. If there were ways to (get it), I would have that technology in our patrol cars.

“I wish we never had to pursue a car. I hate it, but I don’t know of any technology today that we could use that in some instances would stop a pursuit.”

In Houston’s 10 years as police chief of Ridgeland, he said the department has had about 30 pursuits, and Clark’s death was the only resulting fatality of an innocent bystander.

A National Institute of Justice survey of 555 residents of Aiken County, S.C., and Omaha, Neb., showed that the majority of the public agree with the police’s right to pursue. The more serious the offense, the more people agreed that a pursuit is warranted, while a higher risk to the public decreased the number who agreed to pursuits.

“The only way to keep it from happening is to ban pursuits, and I don’t think that our public expects us to that. I think that is the only sure-fire way that you could prevent all deaths in a pursuit,” Houston said in the interview.

Sometimes, officers have to make decisions in gray areas, based on the available data, to pursue or not. And sometimes it doesn’t end well, he said.

Homant believes police can reduce pursuits dramatically without an outright ban by using all the existing technologies. The sense of urgency among many communities to prevent chases has declined over the past 20 years, mainly due to technologies reducing pursuit deaths.

That, coupled with many people’s tendency to view new police technologies as “Big Brotherish,” Homant said, has slowed the move toward eliminating police chases.

While people aren’t arguing for a suspect’s right to flee the police, the idea of police being able to stop or track anyone’s car at anytime isn’t a concept that people can agree with either.

The predicament lies with police chases killing innocent civilians on one hand, and a police force with more control over all vehicles on the other.

“If there was a high-speed pursuit death in your local headlines once a week, then you might say, ‘Yeah, we need to do something about this. We can’t just let the crooks go. Good guys shouldn’t mind being stopped. Let’s get this technology to all our departments,'” Homant said.

For now, it’s a question of how important it is to prevent pursuit-related deaths and injuries, how much technology are people willing to allow law enforcement to have, how much are they willing to pay for it, and how willing officers are to use technology and alternative methods, instead of engaging in high-speed chases.

“With everyone, law enforcement included, people resist change,” Candy Priano said. “One of things we hear often from law enforcement is: ‘We have to chase. We can’t just let them go.’ I look at it as pursuit is not their only tool. Many officers initiate other resources and methods to apprehend these suspects.”

3 Model Pursuit Policies
(Provided by Mississippi Standards and Training)

Prohibitive – Vehicular police chases are not allowed under any circumstances

Restrictive – Police chases are allowed under certain circumstances, as determined by the individual law enforcement agency and described in the agency’s policy

Discretionary – Chases are allowed under any circumstance when deemed necessary by the officers involved and the commanding officer on duty

Grocery List

Two shoplifters allegedly stole the following from Kroger before officers chased them at more than 90 mph, resulting in the death of an innocent bystander.

8 bags of shrimp $143.92
7 packages of beef $101.15
3 boxes of fish nuggets $44.97
4 boxes of snow crab legs $127.96
4 pork loins $53.63
2-24-pack Bud Light $42.98
1 6-pack Heineken $8.39
1 box Ritz crackers $3.19
1 box Wheat Thins $3.19
2 Gain laundry detergent (price not provided)

When Police Officers Say They Would Engage in Pursuits (Level of Risk*)

ViolationLow  High
Traffic Violation43%  10%
Property Crime:Misdemeanor42%  17%
Property Crime:Felony64%  34%
Stolen Vehicle65%  37%
DUI70%  43%
Violent Felony: No Death87%  87%
Violent Felony: With Death96%  95%
Officer Shot96%  95%

* Risk was defined by level of traffic congestion, weather conditions, type of road (e.g., whether surface street, highway, or interstate), and area of pursuit (e.g., whether urban, rural, or commercial). In filling out the questionnaire, respondents themselves determined whether they felt their risk was high or low.

Source: survey by national institute of justice

Deaths Caused by Police Pursuits and Responses
(on average, as recorded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on a volunteer basis)

7 people per week
4 fleeing suspects per week
2 innocent bystanders per week (1/3 of all pursuit deaths are innocent bystanders)
1 police officer every six weeks

 

Jon Farris & PursuitSAFETY in the news
March 22, 2015

Organization Aiming to Reduce Number of Police-Pursuit Related Fatalities

It was a week ago that two young Midlanders died in a crash during a police chase in Austin. Now, a non-profit organization called PursuitSAFETY wants to help make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Police pursuit related fatalities happen often, which was the case in the death of 26-year-old Cristina Mendoza and 27-year-old Juan Cortez, both of Midland.

Video & complete article here

July 15-17, 2014

Jon Farris, Chairman of PursuitSAFETY, and a group of members went to Washington DC to lobby for police pursuit reduction technology funding.

Candy Priano, Ellen Tucker, Maria Ipina, Congressional Fellow Dr. Brian Crone, Jessica Herrera Rodriguez, Esther Seoanes, Jonathan Farris

Jonathan Farris and Lisa Kaplan, Legislative Correspondent to Minnesota Senator Klobuchar

A letter to Lisa Kaplan
July 24, 2014

Dear Lisa,

On behalf of the PursuitSAFETY team, I’d like to thank you for meeting with us. We truly appreciate the opportunity to share our stories and discuss the need for adding “Pursuit Reduction Technology” as a purpose area in Senator Klobuchar’s COPS bill (S. 2254) as well as in future appropriations for Byrne Grants.

During one of our our meetings we were asked whether DOJ already considers pursuit reduction technology eligible for funding. I have spoken with one of the leading technology companies and learned that their cooperative agreement with DOJ/NIJ is for development of the technology and not for procurement by law enforcement.

Therein lies the problem. NIJ has not moved to the next level to encourage procurement. In fact, the IACP pursuit safety report recommends they do just that. Instead there are indications that another pilot may be in the works. The requested COPs bill language highlights that pursuit reduction technologies should be allowed and considered more heavily due to the many daily pursuits and the resulting injuries and deaths of innocent citizens. You advised that you would speak with the Senator about adding this wording.

In addition to you, PursuitSAFETY presented our requests to staff for Senators Feinstein, Franken and Cornyn and also for House companion bill (H.R. 421) wording via discussion with Brian Crone in Congressman Ben Ray Lujan’s office.

As promised I have provided you with electronic copies of the paper materials which we shared and also on of the photographs taken.

Thanks again for your time and support. I look forward to future dialogue.

Warmest regards,

Jon

<6 Attachments>

PS: Senator Klobuchar will most likely remember all of the media coverage in Minnesota when my son was killed. You can find video here (http://www.paulfarris.org/story.html).

January 2014

Jonathan Farris, Chariman of PursuitSAFETY, is interviewed by San Diego, CA new station KFMB 8. VIDEO

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) — A national safety organization is speaking out about a high-speed chase that lasted nearly an hour, and ended with San Diego police shooting the driver in the southeastern San Diego community of Mt. Hope.

The chairman of PursuitSAFETY told CBS News 8 that the chase put the public at risk and should have been called off on the morning of January 9.

Instead, it continued for nearly an hour through residential neighborhoods as the driver, an ex-con named Jose Luis Navarro, raced by elementary schools, ran red lights, and repeatedly drove on the wrong side of roads.

In the end, San Diego police officers shot and killed Navarro, 40, after he allegedly flashed a handgun while stopped in the 800 block of 41st Street.

“The fact that they were actually chasing the vehicle for up to an hour makes no sense whatsoever,” said Jonathan Farris, the PursuitSAFETY chairman.

“How many people were put at risk in an hour?” he said. “Most chases last five minutes, or ten minutes max; an hour, to me, seems insane.”

The Madison, Wisconsin resident knows all too well about the dangers of high speed pursuits. His 23-year-old son, Paul Farris, was killed in 2007 in a Boston suburb when a driver being chased by state troopers plowed into a taxicab Paul was taking home.

“It could be your son next, and your view of the world will change, and your view of police pursuits will most definitely change,” said Farris.

The PursuitSAFETY  group is trying to prevent tragedies like the one in Mira Mesa in 1999, when a local mother, June Meng, was struck and killed by a San Diego police vehicle chasing a robbery suspect.

The collision resulted in $1.95 million court settlement against the city of San Diego.

This recent chase began in Webster at 8:30 in the morning, after an officer noticed Navarro using a cell phone while driving, officials said.

The pursuit continued through several neighborhoods south of Interstate 8, including Paradise Hills, Bonita and National City.

“At the end of the day, the burden to protect the innocent has to fall on the police because the guy who’s running does not give a damn,” said Farris. “He doesn’t care about your family. He doesn’t care that he’s blowing through an intersection at 75 miles per hour.”

Cell phone video of the chase recorded by CBS News 8 shows Navarro running a red light on Imperial Ave. while driving an orange, Saturn sedan.

The video then shows eight San Diego police vehicles actively chasing Navarro, all of them crossing against the same red light with lights and sirens blaring.

The pursuit also passed by Morse High School and two elementary schools.

SDPD has a written pursuit policy that says, “All field supervisors, the Field Lieutenant, the Watch Commander and the initiating/pursuing officers have the authority to terminate a pursuit when the potential safety risks outweigh the need for apprehension.”

The policy also mandates, “Only two units shall be actively involved in a pursuit unless a field supervisor, Field Lieutenant, or the Watch Commander approves additional units.”

San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne declined to be interviewed or answer questions for this report. A SDPD spokesperson arranged an interview with a police academy training officer instead.

“We have to look at what the risk factors are and if it is getting too dangerous we tell them to terminate the pursuit,” said SDPD Sgt. Kevin Rausis, who trains officers on pursuit policy and safety techniques at the academy.

Sgt. Rausis said he was not familiar with the facts of the Navorro chase, which remains under review by SDPD.

“I wasn’t there. There were supervisors at the scene. Maybe they felt that it was safe to continue and that they were chasing a bad guy that needed to be caught.”

Following the pursuit, SDPD put out a news release that said Navorro’s “vehicle fit the description of a suspect vehicle wanted in connection to a double shooting that occurred on January 6, 2014, in the 4400 block of Logan Avenue.”

In an interview with XETV, family members of Jose Navarro said they did not believe he was involved in the Logan Ave. shooting.

“If this is now a suspect that’s believed to be armed, we have to weigh the apprehension of that suspect for public safety purposes, versus the risk of the pursuit itself,” said Sgt. Rausis.

No innocent bystanders were injured during the hour-long chase.

 

August 2013

Transcript of PursuitSAFETY board member Esther Seoanes’ radio interview regarding the horrific Hidalgo County, Texas pursuit deaths.

081513 ESTHER SEOANES.MP3

 

PRESS RELEASE

Family of six killed by police pursuit devastates members of national nonprofit organization

‘If the outcome of police pursuits is to save lives, the goal is not being met’

ALTON, TEXAS, Aug 14, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE via COMTEX) — by Candy Priano Founder and Executive Director, PursuitSAFETY

Members of PursuitSAFETY, a national nonprofit organization, share their devastation and concern over the deaths of a family of six to recover a piece of property–a stolen truck. They were killed on impact and other innocent bystanders were injured when a driver fleeing a Texas DPS officer crashed into the family’s SUV Monday afternoon in rural Hidalgo County in Alton.

If the outcome of police pursuits is to save lives, the goal is not being met. These tragedies repeat themselves throughout the United States and the world. They leave behind families–families who have buried innocent loved ones or innocent victims who have received life-altering injuries.

Research proves the majority of drivers who flee do not pose an immediate threat to the public prior to the chase. It is the chase itself that causes the threat.

PursuitSAFETY is not an anti-police organization and does not want to ban pursuits. Pursuits are necessary to apprehend offenders for violent crimes and when there are no other alternatives to capture suspects in a safer way.

PursuitSAFETY families in Texas and across the country hope those left behind will reach out to the organization. The innocent killed from Penitas are Jose U. Ortiz, 55, and Olga Lidia Morales Cardosa, 35, and their four children Elias, 1, Fernanda, 3, Jose, 6, and Ricardo, 5. Their 3-year-old son, Jesus, was airlifted to a hospital.

Jon Farris, PursuitSAFETY’s chairman, wrote on the organization’s facebook page: “Absolutely horrible and totally unnecessary. Makes me ill just thinking about the victims’ families having to begin this terrible journey.”

These deaths illustrate an on-going problem when it comes to vehicular police pursuits and public safety.

About PursuitSAFETY

PursuitSAFETY is the only national nonprofit organization of its kind. PursuitSAFETY exists to reduce deaths and injuries of innocent bystanders and police officers as a result of vehicular police pursuit and response call crashes. We are working for a safer way through education, awareness and by uniting families of innocent victims. Learn more at www.pursuitsafety.org.

Photo accompanying this release is available at: http://www.globenewswire.com/newsroom/prs/?pkgid=20470

Ildefonso Ortiz | The Monitor | Posted 23 hours ago

iortiz@themonitor.com

CITRUS CITY — A high-speed pursuit of a stolen truck Monday afternoon resulted in a multiple-vehicle wreck that killed six people and hospitalized several more in western Hidalgo County.

A Texas Highway Patrol sergeant was chasing a truck that had been stolen out of Alton when the fleeing vehicle came into the intersection of Mile 7 and Western roads, striking three other vehicles, according to a news release from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The driver then tried to flee on foot but was caught by state troopers before being taken to the hospital. Authorities had not released his identity by press time Monday.

Sandra Nuñez was enjoying a quiet afternoon in her home just north of Mile 7 and Western roads when she heard a commotion outside and called her cousin, who lives down the street, to make sure she was OK.

“All of a sudden you heard a helicopter and sirens and everything,” Nuñez said in Spanish as she pointed toward the wreck. “I had never seen anything like this before. I am a little shocked by this and it’s so scary that over there people died.”

The scene of the wreck was just east of Juarez-Lincoln High School, and school officials placed several school buses just south of the wreck to block the view of the scene.

On the north side of the wreck, various concerned individuals approached state troopers asking if their loved one was there.

A visibly concerned man wearing a white shirt and blue jeans jumped the crime scene tape as he rushed toward the scene of the wreck.

“I need to know if my wife and my baby are there,” the man said in Spanish. After spending several minutes speaking with authorities, the man walked back with more questions than answers. “I don’t know.”

Pursuits have become a common occurrence in western Hidalgo County because the area just west of Mission marks a gap in the border fence. That unimpeded stretch of land leading to the Rio Grande sees increased vehicle pursuits in which vehicles smuggling drugs and immigrants drive at high speeds along U.S. 83 before taking to the lesser-trafficked roads in an effort to lose authorities.

Such chases have yielded grim headlines:

On April 10, 2012, nine immigrants died along the frontage road of Interstate 2/Expressway 83 in Palmview when Junior Benjamin Rodriguez — who was 15 at the time — was driving a van filled with immigrants in the country illegally and then tried to flee when U.S. Border Patrol agents tried to stop him. As he fled, the teen lost control of the van, causing it to spin around. Several of his passengers were launched out of the van and straight into the concrete road, killing nine of them. Since then, the boy has been certified as an adult to stand trial, which he is awaiting.

On Oct. 25, 2012, a 14-year-old driver was smuggling nine immigrants under a tarp in the bed of a red pickup truck near La Joya. When game wardens with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department tried to stop him, the teen fled, starting a chase that state troopers soon joined. Eventually a DPS helicopter was called in, and a DPS sharpshooter aboard the helicopter was given permission to shoot out the tires of the fleeing pickup. DPS later said its personnel thought the truck was carrying drugs, not people.

The shots successfully disabled the truck, but they also killed two Guatemalan immigrants and injured a third. Amid the ensuing backlash, DPS changed its policy on shooting vehicles during pursuits.

The Hidalgo County District’s Attorney’s Office has taken the case to a grand jury to determine whether the shooting was justified or criminal in nature. The grand jury is still looking over the case.

iortiz@themonitor.com

November 24, 2012 Editorial and response

To the Editor,
Thank you for publishing Bob Wilson’s commentary. Sadly, I’ll bet the majority of emailed comments will lean toward wanting those who run from the police to be pursued – all the time and for any reason.  I, however, contend that although some police pursuits are necessary, many including traffic violations (misdemeanors) are not.

I am Chairman of PursuitSAFETY (www.PursuitSAFETY.org). We are a national non-profit dedicated to supporting innocent victims and reducing deaths/injuries due to unnecessary police pursuits and response calls.  Our vision is to prevent these tragedies and save the lives of innocent bystanders and police officers.
Why, you might ask, would I be involved with such a group?  Because my son Paul was one of those innocent victims, killed in a misdemeanor traffic violation, high speed pursuit.  Feel free to visit my memorial website, www.paulfarris.org, to learn more about our loss.

There are alternative and effective means for law enforcement agencies to reduce pursuits. Anarchy will not reign if a police force replaces some or all pursuits with other tactics.  PursuitSAFETY sponsors the annual Safer Way Award (http://www.pursuitsafety.org/saferway.html). Please visit this link to learn how our 2012 winner, the Dallas Police Department, has indeed come up with “a safer way” when it comes to pursuits.

In the case referenced by Mr. Wilson, the innocent truck driver and his passenger walked away with injuries, but thankfully they walked away.  Many of us in the PursuitSAFETY organization are not so lucky. We live our lives with the emptiness of a lost child, a lost relative, a lost spouse or a lost friend.
The only way these tragedies can be reduced is by law enforcement agencies adopting strict(er) pursuit policies, and eliminating chases which can be resolved through means which do not place innocents at risk.  The more the media analyzes and publishes why a pursuit occurred and questions if a pursuit was truly necessary, the more likely laws and policies will be changed for the better.
When my son was killed, I was quoted by a Boston newspaper. I think the quote sums up our cause and our concern.
“Police pursuits, for the most part, are merely a passing newspaper story or television headline, forgotten by readers and viewers a few minutes later. But for the hundreds of relatives and thousands of friends of these innocent victims, the pain is real and never goes away. Never.”  I know this because I live with this pain every day, as do so many of the members of PursuitSAFETY and so many other untold innocent victims.
Kindest regards,

Jonathan Farris
Chairman, PursuitSAFETY
jon@paulfarris.org

My View Columnists: Flo Johnston| Barry Saunders | Jim Wise
Commentary:  Published: Nov 24, 2012 07:00 PM

No police pursuit is worth a human life

AGREE OR DISAGREE Bob’s told you what he thinks. Now we want to know what you think. Send your comments to editor@nando.com. We’ll publish them here next week.

BY BOB WILSON
As police chases go in the wee hours, the one last week that ended with the fiery death of a driver eager to avoid a DWI checkpoint on N.C. 98 followed a common scenario.
Driver sees trouble ahead, turns around and law enforcement rides to tally-ho.

In this case, law enforcement consisted of two Highway Patrol troopers who lit out to catch the driver of a black Chrysler Crossfire, a high-end coupe with a top speed of 155 miles per hour.

This wasn’t your usual gas-sipping, underpowered four-banger. The Crossfire, a spawn of the ill-fated merger of Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, has solid German engineering and performance to match.

Maybe that had something to do with the driver’s decision to pull out of the DWI line. But whatever the reason, we’ll never know. The Crossfire smashed into an oncoming box truck on N.C. 98 and the driver was burned beyond recognition, according to the Highway Patrol.

Fortunately, the driver and a passenger in the box truck survived with minor injuries. One of the troopers, Justin Mitchell, pulled the driver to safety while the passenger scrambled out of the truck.

It’s easy in a case like this to dump on the troopers for pursuing a suspicious driver, so I’ll resist the temptation. They have authority to go after a driver who pulls out of a checkpoint line, acting in the reasonable belief, for example, that the driver is driving under the influence, has drugs in the car, or is wanted on an outstanding warrant.

Nonetheless, the chase policy under which troopers operate remains flawed, no matter how many revisions come out of fatal pursuits. In fact, I’m not sure a foolproof policy is possible because of the competing interests at play in a pursuit, especially one at high speed.

Those interests are law enforcement’s mandate to apprehend a suspect and the public’s entirely reasonable expectation that John Q. Citizen cruising along in his chariot won’t be endangered.

Perhaps nothing in police work is as fraught with danger, both to the office and the public – as a pursuit. It’s estimated that several hundred Americans die each year as a result of police pursuits, and we certainly produce some of these deaths in the greater Research Triangle area.

A pursuit policy is more than a sanctioned adrenalin rush. It’s also a legal construct, one that tries to mediate, often unsuccessfully, those competing interests. Plaintiff lawyers denounce pursuits that result in injury or death as reckless endangerment, while police defend them as necessary to apprehend someone who has in effect flipped the bird to an officer and refused to stop.

So in hindsight the question becomes, Should law enforcement go after someone who tries to avoid a checkpoint? Yes, but if a high-speed chase ensues, disengage. The risk of a catastrophic outcome isn’t worth it.

That truck driver and his passenger could have died in the N.C. 98 collision. The pursuing officers could have been injured or killed (one of the patrol cars clipped a utility pole).

Most of us have little sympathy for the driver who died, but think about this: Even if he or she had been drinking or had drugs in the car, was the pursuit worth a human life? I don’t think so.

Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.

Dallas Police Department to receive PursuitSAFETY’s ‘Safer Way Award’

National nonprofit recognizes law enforcement leaders
in the area of vehicular pursuit safety

Contacts:
Chief Richard Schardan
Maryville, Illinois, Police Department
(618) 344-8899

Candy Priano
Executive Director
(530) 343-9754 (W) (530) 519-9754 (C)
candy.priano@pursuitsafety.org

Immediate Release

September 25, 2012

CHICO, CA–PursuitSAFETY, a national nonprofit public safety organization, announces that the Dallas Police Department will receive the 2012 PursuitSAFETY “Safer Way Award.” The organization recognizes the department’s lifesaving tactical apprehension policy and training designed to provide officers with a legitimate, sanctioned methodology for apprehending offenders without a vehicular pursuit.

Dallas Deputy Chief Randall Blankenbaker will receive the award on behalf of the department at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in San Diego, during the Highway Safety Awards Breakfast on October 2.

“It is an honor to recognize the Dallas Police Department for striking the right balance between vehicular police pursuits and apprehension, and by implementing policies which reduce potential harm to innocent drivers, passengers, and bystanders, as well as the officers themselves,” said the organization’s founder and executive director, Candy Priano.

Deputy Chief Blankenbaker said, “The policy and training remind officers that alternatives to pursuit exist and that additional resources are available to bring offenders to justice in a safer, more controlled manner. I believe the Dallas Police Department pursuit policy to be one of the best in the nation. It has proven to save lives. I would hope that this recognition might encourage other agencies to develop similar policies.”

In 2006, the Dallas Police Department instituted a prohibition on all pursuits except for violent felonies. In the two years prior to the change, vehicular pursuit crashes resulted in six fatalities, four of whom were bystanders in the respective pursuits. Other pursuit crashes caused 39 injuries.

In the year after the change, however, the number of pursuits dropped from 354 in one year to 70, with no fatalities in the subsequent year. Of those injuries suffered in the remaining pursuits, none required transport to a hospital.
Building on this success, the department developed alternatives to otherwise unnecessarily dangerous pursuits, such as using plain-clothed officers to direct marked units to places where offenders abandon vehicles, and by selectively deploying tire deflation devices to terminate pursuits.

The department has fostered accountability by keeping its commitment to reviewing its policies and monitoring its officers’ compliance, not least by installing 93 percent of its patrol fleet with video cameras, on route to its goal of 100 percent.

Consistent with this effort, the department deploys a Digital Video Recorder Team to review incidents, with the goal of commending and reinforcing outstanding action, while identifying areas for improvement and better training.

The IACP Highway Safety Committee judged the nominations received through the PursuitSAFETY.org web site. Maryville, IL, Police Chief Richard Schardan, Sr., the award program administrator, expressed his personal appreciation to all of the departments that submitted nominations, including two others of note.
“The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s pursuit policy is another commendable model,” said Chief Schardan, who also acknowledged a nomination submitted on behalf of two Chicago officers.

Chicago Police 18th District police officers Tomasz Zatora and Matthew Wagner used restraint, sound instincts and skillful tactics to protect the public when they responded to a shooting in which they received registration information regarding the offenders’ vehicle.

Thereafter, when the officers identified the offender driving at a normal speed, the officers inferred that enough time had passed that the offender had likely disposed of the gun.

Accordingly, the officers, rather than reflexively initiate a vehicular pursuit, radioed for back up. They waited for the suspect’s car to exit an expressway and pull into a gas station, before executing a successful arrest.

In 2011, PursuitSAFETY presented its first “Safer Way Award” to the St. Louis County Police Department for apprehending car burglars without a pursuit.
These departments’ efforts reduced the number of fatalities and injuries to innocent bystanders and police officers by using other methods to apprehend suspects. In short: a safer way.

The submission period for the 2013 PursuitSAFETY “Safer Way Award” will begin February 1, 2013 and end March 31, 2013.
__________

About PursuitSAFETY
PursuitSAFETY is the only national nonprofit organization of its kind. PursuitSAFETY exists to prevent deaths of and injuries to innocent bystanders and police officers as a result of vehicular police pursuit and response call crashes. We are working for a safer way through education, awareness and by uniting families of innocent victims. Learn more at www.pursuitsafety.org.

Contacts for your story:
Candy Priano, founder and executive director of PursuitSAFETY, continues to work for a safer way so others will not have to endure the pain that she and thousands of others have suffered. A 2002 police chase through a residential neighborhood ended when a fleeing teenager, who officers knew had taken her mother’s car without permission, slammed into Priano’s minivan right where her daughter Kristie, wearing her seatbelt, was sitting. 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. Later she would serve one year in juvenile hall. Kristie died from a massive closed-brain injury, a crushed brain stem, and extensive swelling that caused her brain to rupture. (530) 343-9754 (W) (530) 519-9754 (C) candy.priano@pursuitsafety.org

Jonathan Farris, board chairman for PursuitSAFETY, lost his son Paul in 2007. Paul, an innocent victim, died as a result of an unnecessary police chase in the Boston area. Jon is an advocate for changing police pursuit laws across the United States. (612) 804-5868 (C) jon@paulfarris.org

David Ehrensperger, PursuitSAFETY board member, recalls how his son Steven was killed: “A 22-year-old officer driving at an excessive speed to a possible burglary struck Steven’s car. The officer never made it to his destination and no burglary took place.” David is an advocate for changes that will stop unnecessary tragedies during police response calls. (205) 915-0360 (C)ehrensperger@hotmal.com

April 18, 2012: Jackson Free Press article by Jacob Fuller. Click here to read more, beginning on page 14.

April 17, 2012: The Kentucky Standard. Not all pursuits are handled poorly. An example of one gone right. Read More

Letters & Email

2010 – Madison, WI

Jonathan,
Thank you for contacting me. One of the difficulties I had in writing the story is that I hadn’t talked to any local advocates for curtailing police chases. Please let me know if any advocacy is being done here to change local policies or if a change in policy is introduced in Madison or at UW-Madison so I can do a follow up story.
Thanks again,
Matthew DeFour
Wisconsin State Journal
—————————————————————————–

From: Jonathan Farris
Sent: Thursday, July 22, 2010 9:07 PM
To: Matt Defour
Subject: Fatal police-chase crash is second in five months for University of Wisconsin-Madison cops

Dear Mr. DeFour,

Thank you very much for your article today. I believe you have begun to touch on some of the more significant issues related to police pursuits.

I must say that, as described, this was not much of a “chase” because you and I drive 30 MPH on most Madison streets. A police chase or police pursuit in most situations would be defined as exceeding the speed limits and thus endangering all parties, including the pursuing officer. Of course we’ll learn more about this specific case as the investigation continues.

I would like to share some thoughts on police pursuits. I’ll explain why I am so interested once you’ve read my comments.

Bystanders are not sometimes killed – they are often killed. How big a problem are police chases? Plenty big.

• FBI statistics show that 300-500 lives are lost annually as a result of high speed police pursuits.

• In a 9 year period from 1995-2004, 1100 fatalities were innocent victims

• The majority of police chases are pursuing drivers for minor traffic violations (estimates as high as 83%).

• In 2005 alone California reported there were 7,942 pursuits, 1,200 people injured and 32 killed.

• According to statistics compiled by the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, there were more than 2,000 police pursuits in the state in 2003, resulting in 538 accidents, 322 people injured and four deaths.

• Of 15 people killed in connection with New Jersey police chases from 2000 to 2002, seven were drivers or passengers in third-party vehicles who were not the target of the pursuit.

• Hundreds of police officers themselves have been killed and injured in high speed chases. In the 2000-2002 period in New Jersey, the statistics show in Hudson and Essex counties more police officers were injured than people in the cars they were pursuing.

• A study by the California ACLU reported that from 1993-1995 there were 5,776 chases in Los Angeles in which 47 persons were killed and 363 officers, 1240 suspects, and 314 innocent victims were injured.

• The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration maintains statistical data regarding vehicular accidents. Unfortunately the statistics are under reported because there are no mandatory forms utilized by states to report fatalities and motor vehicle accidents such as police pursuits. However, from 1982 through 2004, 7,434 people were reported to FARS as being killed in high speed pursuit cases.

• Law officers argue that the option to chase violent criminals is important, and shielding agencies from lawsuits is key in allowing pursuits. No such valid argument has been made relative to chases instigated due to simple traffic offenses.

• Every state and jurisdiction has different laws and policies relative to pursuits.

• Most pursuits put innocent bystanders at risk, but when those bystanders are injured or killed, the law provides no recourse.

Many police organizations and, in my experience most police associations, endorse police pursuit with limited or no officer restrictions, using the same comments used by Mr. Crivello in your article. Basically he’s saying that if we place any controls or rules on the pursuing officers that criminals will run free and anarchy will reign. Well I’d respectfully tell you that he is dead wrong. Well written and strong pursuit policies protect the officers, and the public. Better laws will fix many of the other problems. More on that below.

As you expand your research another fallacy preached is that many of the accidents or deaths occurred “after the pursuit was terminated.” Yet many (I would suggest most) departments do not specifically define exactly how an officer must terminate the pursuit. As an example, Minneapolis Police intelligently define and enforce termination of a pursuit by turning off emergency lights and pulling onto a perpendicular cross street so that the officer is totally out of the perp’s rear view mirror.

There is a balance, however, and police departments and pursuing officers must carefully weigh each situation (hence the reason why all jurisdictions need a formal police pursuit policy). So another critical issue that needs to be defined is when a pursuit should not be instigated. The vast majority of police chases are as a result of misdemeanor traffic violations. If the pursuit is for anything other than a felony it should not be allowed (by policy) in residential / population areas. Period. If the pursuit is after a criminal brandishing a weapon and threatening public safety (a felony), then the pursuit will likely need to continue. But if the pursuit is as the result of a traffic violation (misdemeanor), then write down their license number and pick them up later.

Police officers have incredibly difficult jobs and must make split-second decisions. But just like the rest of us, they must be bound by strict rules and regulations. Pursuing near and into residential population centers for misdemeanors or simple larceny is truly stupid. The criminal in every case is always to blame. But any police policy that allows an officer to go 70 MPH down any residential street is flawed. This happens across the country every single day. In these cases innocent victims should not be dying.

So, if we can’t get the policies to be identical, at least require basic intelligence be incorporated by all police departments.

• Each and every police organization needs a formally documented policy regarding police chases. Even bad procedures and bad rules are better than no policies.

• If the pursuit is for anything other than a felony it should not be allowed in residential / population areas.

• Pursuing as a direct result of certain felonies may be warranted. No one should try to tie the police so they can never pursue a criminal. And sometimes the outcome can be very painful (the death of innocent victims).

Your point that there are differences in every single jurisdiction is right on point. However, the ONLY way that will ever change is if we have legislators with the guts to stand up and force intelligent legislation mandating statewide police pursuit policies across all jurisdictions. I have yet to meet or read about such a legislator. Also State and (even better) Federal laws need to be changed. Significantly stiffer, mandatory jail sentences and monetary fines for offenders fleeing an officer need to be enacted.

So why do I care? Because every single day, for the rest of my life, I will be forced to live through the horrific outcome of a high speed police chase which never should have happened.

I am not a police chase expert, but I do have a different perspective than most of your readers. I lost my 23 year old son in 2007 – killed when the taxi in which he was riding was struck by some idiot fleeing a State Trooper outside of Boston. That particular chase was not necessary – it was started as the result of a simple misdemeanor traffic violation and went from the interstate onto the narrow streets of New England’s most densely populated city. The taxi was struck in an intersection – the SUV was going 76 MPH. My son died. The taxi driver died. My son’s girlfriend was unconscious for four weeks and ultimately spent four months in the hospital. Now just over three years later she has still not fully recovered. Where my son died the local city police have a strict no-chase policy, but that didn’t stop the state trooper.

Police pursuits, for the most part, are merely a passing newspaper story or television headline, forgotten by readers and viewers a few minutes later. But for the hundreds of relatives and thousands of friends of these innocent victims, the pain is real and never goes away. Never.

I invite you to take some time at my website, www.paulfarris.org, to learn about just one innocent victim. Another wonderful resource is PursuitSAFETY (http://pursuitsafety.org/ ). I would also be pleased to spend some time visiting with you and talk about solutions and how the press can drive positive changes.

My son was an innocent victim. My story is real life. My life will always be incomplete. My life will be filled with daily sadness. But if I can keep chipping away and get even just a few pursuit policies changed, then perhaps you or one of your readers may be spared from a loss that could have been prevented.

Thanks and best regards,

Jonathan Farris

By MATTHEW DeFOUR | mdefour@madison.com | 608-252-6144 | Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 7:18 pm

A 24-year-old Waunakee was killed in a crash in Madison early Wednesday morning after he fled police. It was the second such police-chase fatality for UW-Madison police in five months. STEVE APPS

A fatal crash following police pursuit in Madison early Wednesday morning was the second such incident in less than five months for UW-Madison Police.

In Wednesday’s incident, Michael J. Benkert, 24, of Waunakee, was killed and his passenger was injured after he tried to elude police. According to UW-Madison Police Sgt. Aaron Chapin, an officer tried to pull over Benkert on West Johnson Street for swerving out of his lane.

Benkert then drove at 30 mph for 16 blocks before turning right on Ingersoll Street and speeding off. When the officer caught up to Benkert’s vehicle at Williamson Street, it had hit a parked vehicle and flipped.

The agency is still reviewing the incident and has asked the Madison Police Department to conduct an independent review.

On Feb. 28, Darrell H. Pantazes, 51, of Skokie, Ill., was killed after driving the wrong way on West Johnson Street. When he tried to flee police, he hit another vehicle, then a light pole and the side of a building. A review of the incident cleared police of any wrongdoing, Chapin said.

Though officers in both cases appear to have acted appropriately, the number of deaths sticks out because fatalities related to police pursuits are rare. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in some recent years there have been two police pursuit fatalities in the entire state.

Bystanders are sometimes killed

Though fatalities are rare, a third of those people killed in police pursuits nationally have been innocent bystanders, according to data compiled by NHTSA data.

Earlier this year in Milwaukee, four people died in three unrelated police pursuit incidents, including a young woman standing on a street corner.

In late March, following the third incident, the Milwaukee Police Department changed its policy on pursuits so that officers may only chase a speeding vehicle if they have probable cause that the person committed a felony.

Milwaukee Police Association President Michael Crivello said the change was unnecessary and demoralizing for police. The innocent bystander was killed after police had stopped their pursuit based on existing policies, he said.

“The greatest issue is to public safety,” Crivello said about the more stringent policy. “It basically emboldens the criminal.”

UW-Madison police are reviewing their policy following Wednesday’s incident, but they did the same after Feb. 28 incident and made no changes, Chapin said.

Trend toward more restrictive policies

The state required police agencies to develop pursuit policies in the mid-1990s following a McFarland crash that injured state Rep. Doris Hanson and killed a passenger in her car. The person who hit Hanson’s car was fleeing from a Dane County sheriff’s deputy.

“The general trend across the country has been pretty consistently toward more restrictive policies on pursuits,” said UW-Madison law professor Michael Scott.

The state law requires a local pursuit policy, but doesn’t model language to create uniformity around the state, Scott said. Madison police, the State Patrol and UW-Madison Police policies have similar language that encourage the officer to use discretion based on the time of day, weather, traffic, severity of the crime and other factors, but they are now less stringent than Milwaukee’s policy.

“There is a strong argument to be made at a minimum of regional policies so that all agencies within a county would be following the same policy,” Scott said. “Ideally agencies would have a standardized unified policy for the entire state.”

The total number of reported police pursuits in Wisconsin has declined in recent years, from 1,298 in 2006 to 958 last year, according to data collected by the State Patrol. The numbers are incomplete; of the more than 700 police agencies in Wisconsin, only 421 have provided data, even though state law requires agencies to report the information to the state each year.

Since 2002, UW-Madison police have engaged in between two and six pursuits a year. By comparison, Madison police have engaged in pursuits between 11 and 28 times a year and Milwaukee police between 161 and 276.

Below is a letter that the Farris family and so many of Paul’s friends have sent to legislators and news outlets. We also have a professionally produced Police Pursuit DVD (linked on YouTube), to elevate the issue of unnecessary police pursuits.

Dear Madam or Sir,

We are writing you about an issue that continues to weigh heavily on our hearts, unnecessary high-speed police chases. We would be honored if you could just give us several minutes of your time to read this letter and to watch the enclosed 3-minute DVD. We think you’ll understand why this is so very important to us and how it may one
day directly impact you.

In the early morning hours of May 27, 2007 our son, Paul Farris, died as the result of a truly senseless high-speed police chase in the Boston suburb of Somerville. Paul and his girlfriend Katelyn were coming home from a night out when an SUV being pursued by the Massachusetts State Police slammed into the taxi in which they were riding. Paul, who we were told was wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the taxi and died at the scene; the taxi driver Walid Chahine
died a week later, leaving a wife and 4 year old son; Katelyn was severely injured and was unconscious for almost four weeks. She remained in Massachusetts General Hospital for four months and then continued her rehab with her parents in New York. Her ongoing physical and emotional recovery is nothing short of miraculous. This
has been an indescribably sorrowful and difficult time for our families and friends. Most of us will never completely heal from the emotional scars.

Paul was an amazing 23 year old. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University in 2007 and had been working as an insurance claims adjuster for a year. He had already taken his LSATs and planned to attend law school in the fall of 2008. Paul had absolutely everything going for him. Katelyn had a terrific job at one of Boston’s premier spas. Katelyn had absolutely everything going for her.

Paul Farris is dead

Walid Chahine is dead

Katelyn Hoyt continues her recovery

Because Katelyn was uninsured, MA and NY Medicaid (taxpayers) covered her medical bills which were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

WHY? Because the police officer made a poor decision. He pursued a traffic offender through the most densely populated city in all of New England at speeds likely exceeding 70 miles per hour – for a simple traffic offense.

The driver of the SUV was not involved in a felony, had not robbed a store, had not fired a gun, or done anything else that evening that was endangering lives. Yet the officer, like hundreds of others across the US every single day, decided that a high-speed pursuit was acceptable.

Would that officer or their command have made the same decision if they were held to the same legal standards as ordinary citizens when it comes to causing death or great bodily harm? Absolutely not.

How big a problem are high speed police pursuits?

FBI statistics show that 300-500 lives are lost annually as a result of high speed police pursuits. In a 9-year period from 1995-2004, 1100 fatalities were innocent victims. The majority of police chases are pursuing drivers for minor traffic violations (estimates as high as 83%). California reported in 2005 alone there were 7,942 pursuits, 1,153 people injured and 32 killed.

According to statistics compiled by the NJ Department of Law and Public Safety, there were more than 2,000 police pursuits in the state in 2003, resulting in 538 accidents, 322 people injured and four deaths. Of 15 people killed in connection with NJ police chases from 2000 to 2002, seven were drivers or passengers in third-party vehicles who were not the target of the pursuit.

Hundreds of police officers themselves have been killed and injured in high speed chases. In the 2000 to 2002 period in NJ, the statistics show in Hudson and Essex counties more police officers were injured than people in the cars they were
pursuing.

The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration maintains statistical data regarding vehicular accidents. Unfortunately the statistics are under reported because there are no mandatory forms utilized by states to report fatalities and motor vehicle accidents such as police pursuits. However, from 1982 through 2004, 7,434 people were reported to FARS as being killed in high speed pursuit cases.

Law officers argue that the option to chase violent criminals is important, and shielding agencies from lawsuits is key in allowing pursuits. No such valid argument has been made relative to chases instigated due to simple traffic offenses.
Every state and jurisdiction has different laws and policies relative to pursuits.

Most pursuits put innocent bystanders at risk , but when those bystanders are injured or killed, the law provides no recourse. State and perhaps even Federal laws need to be changed. Stiffer, mandatory jail sentences for offenders who flee officers as well as the ability for innocent victims to pursue legal recourse against all parties involved in the chase.

The City of Somerville has a very well written and very strict no-pursuit policy because they recognize the danger it poses to their citizens. Yet throughout the country we see cities, counties and states all having different standards, requirements and policies. And almost every one of those policies gives the pursuing officer immunity, regardless of the circumstances or location of the pursuit. So more innocent victims will continue to be killed and maimed until
the laws are changed.

Interestingly, the Massachusetts State Police with no announcement or press release quietly changed their pursuit policies less than four months after Paul died. Additionally, in early 1538 there was police pursuit legislation introduced (two bills) in Massachusetts by State Representatives Christopher Fallon and Brad Hill. Our voices have already made a difference. The more voices we add, the more likely we’ll achieve additional successes throughout the country.

If there were greater accountability and responsibility placed upon both the offender and the pursuer, Paul, Walid, Katelyn, their families and their friends would be living their lives in peace, rather than with pain, sorrow and broken hearts that cannot be healed.

We need your help and we need your involvement. Please take a few more minutes, watch our DVD, and think about how you can help stop senseless high speed police pursuits.

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CODE BLUE
Police Pursuits Cost A Life A Day
read more

2012 Interview

High-speed chases, like one in Brockton, pose high risks Advocates want statewide policy to ensure consistency
By Maria Papadopoulos
Enterprise Staff Writer
Posted Oct 21, 2012 @ 06:00 AM

BROCKTON, MA
It happens about once a day in the United States. Police chase a driver and someone gets killed.

When an innocent bystander is the one who dies, as happened in the high-speed crash in Brockton on Oct. 12 that killed Mary Anne Kotsiopoulos, it raises the inevitable question: When does the risk that someone is going to get hurt or killed in a police chase outweigh the need to catch the person being chased?

Jonathan Farris’ son Paul died in 2007 when a man state police had chased from Everett slammed his car into a cab in Somerville. Paul Farris, 23, a passenger in the cab, was killed as was the cab driver, Walid Chahine, 45, of Methuen.

Jonathan Farris said pursuits are rarely an easy call for police.

“We don’t begrudge the police officers and the police departments for doing their job,” he said. “It’s a very difficult position that they’re put in. But we truly believe that there are pursuits that are unnecessary.”

Farris believes a statewide policy would be a good start.

“If a state could at least get some consistency in and throughout that state, then these types of things would not happen as often,” he said.

The death of Farris’ son prompted a change in the state police policy on chases, parts of which several local police departments – with the notable exception of Brockton – have since adopted.

The policy changes made in 2007 included mandating that pursuits involving a misdemeanor or nonviolent felony be terminated when the suspect enters a densely populated neighborhood or congested highway.

The new policy also includes the language: “A motor vehicle pursuit is justified when the necessity of the apprehension of the suspect outweighs the risk created by the pursuit.”

Police have multiple factors to consider – and little time to do it – when initiating or continuing a chase, said East Bridgewater Police Chief John Cowan.

“It’s what happened, is the crime a felony, a misdemeanor, where are they, time of day, traffic, weather, foot traffic – all of those things come into play for a supervisor to make a decision on whether to chase or not,” he said.

Brockton’s policy on police pursuits is two pages long and does not include language about taking into consideration the severity of the alleged offense when deciding whether to start or continue a pursuit.

It does say that officers should stop chasing a suspect “when it becomes evident … that the risks to life and property begin to outweigh the benefit (of apprehension).”

The officers involved in the fatal chase in Brockton on Oct. 12 had only seconds to weigh the risks of chasing Antwoin Moore, a 27-year-old convicted drug offender who has served time in state prison and whose driver’s license has been suspended 12 times.
Brockton police pulled him over less than a mile from the crash scene about 4:30 p.m. on a Friday. Police would not comment on why they stopped Moore but said it was part of a narcotics investigation.
Moore allegedly stopped for police, but then hit a cruiser and nearly hit a police officer as he walked toward the vehicle. Moore sped away, with police in pursuit, and narrowly avoided hitting several other vehicles on his way to the intersection, police said.
Moore floored it through a red light at the intersection of Quincy and Centre streets on the city’s East Side, slamming his vehicle into Kotsiopoulos’ car and pushing it into a line of cars stopped at the light, police said.
In a report filed in court, police said Moore told investigators that he drove away from officers because he didn’t have a valid driver’s license. Defense attorney Donald Hart said in court Monday during Moore’s arraignment on manslaughter and other charges that his client fled because he thought he was being carjacked.
Brockton Police Chief Emanuel Gomes declined comment on the case and on the department’s policy on pursuits.
State police are investigating what happened in Brockton. Gomes has said that the department is also doing a thorough review to make sure policies and procedures were followed during the pursuit of Moore.
Meanwhile, Brockton attorney John Cannavo, who is representing Kotsiopoulos’ family, declined to say whether the family plans to file a lawsuit against the city.
“We’re going to explore any and all avenues of persons and/or entities that may have contributed to this tragic loss,” Cannavo said Thursday.
“Right now, we’re trying to gather as much information as we can.”

By the numbers: Fatalities in police pursuits

3,677 People killed in accidents involving a police pursuit in the U.S. from 2001-2010.
51  People killed in police pursuits in Massachusetts during the same decade.
60  Percentage of people killed in police pursuits in Massachusetts who were in the vehicle being chased.
40  Percentage of people killed in police pursuits in Massachusetts who were innocent bystanders, be it a motorist, pedestrian or bicyclist.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

And the carnage continues

Exactly three years from Paul’s death…
Trooper going 120 mph before crash

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A preliminary accident report shows a North Carolina Highway Patrol officer was traveling at 120 miles per hour before a crash that killed a grandmother and an 11-year-old child.

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 3pt” Grandmother, child killed in trooper chase

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 3pt”

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 3pt” Investigators say Trooper J.D. Goodnight slowed to 95 mph before he hit a car driven by 55-year-old Sandra Allmond.

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 3pt” Allmond and 11-year-old Taylor Strange were killed by the force of the impact that split their car in half – leaving the engine and front wheels on the other side of the highway. Two other children in the back seat survived the crash and were treated and released from a local hospital.

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 3pt” According to the Highway Patrol, Goodnight was traveling southbound on the Interstate 85 Business Loop just before noon Sunday in Jamestown when he clocked a Buick Skylark traveling northbound at 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. He activated his blue lights and turned around headed north. He slammed into Allmond as she was turning left at a green light at the River Road intersection.

It’s not clear if Goodnight was using his siren. The accident report released Thursday says witnesses did not hear one.

It also says Allmond “failed to yield” and witnesses reported that Goodnight steered to the right to try and avoid the crash but was unable to.

Click here to read the report (.pdf)

At a morning news conference, Highway Patrol Commander Colonel Randy Glover told reporters he has agreed for the Attorney General’s Office to do an independent investigation into the crash.

“Our hearts go out to the families,” said Glover. “I am a family man myself and I have an 10-year-old girl. It rips at my heart.”

But Glover said troopers have a job to do.

“They try their best to keep everyone safe, but sometimes things happen,” he said.

Glover pledged to get to the bottom of what happened.

“We will answer the questions that arise in this investigation,” said Glover.

A final internal report on the crash is expected in 6-8 weeks. In the meantime, Goodnight is on paid leave.

Officials said they were looking at their policies as a result of the crash. They said there was no internal policy that sets a maximum speed allowed in pursuits. Officers are expected to rely on their training to determine what is safe.

Family reaction

Strange’s mother Michele Casler blamed speed for the crash in comments to reporters Wednesday.

Related Content

Radio calls released in trooper crash

Grandmother, child killed in trooper crash

NC Highway Patrol averages 7 wrecks a week

911 calls released in Trooper crash

“Speed was a cause of this tragedy. I believe that if it was not for speed this would not have happened,” she said.

Casler said her daughter was about to graduate from the fifth grade.

“She was my only child and was my whole world,” she said.

The First Pentecostal Church is accepting donations for the Allmond family. For more information, contact the church at (336) 884-5661 or Pastor Lark Lewis at (336) 561-7811.

(Copyright ©2010 WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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Deaths lead police to question high-speed chase policies 

By   Larry Copeland, USA TODAY

Innocent bystanders account for one-third of those who are killed in high-speed police chases, a USA TODAY review has found. The deaths have several communities around the USA wrestling with whether to restrict pursuits only to suspects in violent crimes.

About 360 people are killed each year in police chases, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Proponents of more restrictive chase policies say the fatality numbers are lower than the real toll because there is no mandatory reporting system for deaths in pursuits.

Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina who has studied police pursuits since the 1980s, says the actual number of fatalities is “three or four times higher.” Another complicating factor: bystanders killed after police stop chasing suspects — even seconds afterward — are not counted.

About 35%-40% of all police chases end in crashes, Alpert says. He says the nation’s 17,000 police departments are moving toward more restrictive chase policies “because chasing someone for a traffic offense or a property offense is not worth the risk of people’s lives and well-being.”

Although police chases are dangerous, police who allow suspects to flee run the risk that offenders will do even greater harm to citizens, says Michael Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association and a city police detective.

“They’re fleeing because they may be wanted for sexual assaults, shootings, homicides,” he says. “There are pursuits that are successfully concluded all the time, but you never hear about those.”

Milwaukee changed its policy on pursuits last month after four people were killed by drivers fleeing police in three separate incidents in a two-month period. Police there now must have probable cause that a violent felony has occurred instead of reasonable suspicion before initiating a chase.

Crivello says the change demoralized officers. “They feel as though they are minimized as professionals, because they are able to make the proper decision relative to a chase,” he says.

Victim can’t ‘be replaced’

When he was killed by a driver fleeing police last month, Apostle Anthony Taylor had just left the church he had led in the Churchill section of Richmond, Va., for nearly two decades.

Taylor, 44, was a vital cog in the community, working to deter young men from lives of crime, advocating for public education and providing cheap meals for senior citizens, say those who knew him.

“The loss to this community, based on his contributions, will never be replaced,” says Virginia state Delegate Delores McQuinn, a Democrat who lives about two blocks from Taylor’s church and knew him for 18 years. “We lost a humanitarian, a visionary leader, a rising star, not only in the church but in the community.”

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Taylor was killed when his pickup was hit broadside by a man fleeing police in neighboring Henrico County. Authorities say police chased the man after he sped off when an officer approached him at a checkpoint.

Henrico County’s pursuit policy is less restrictive than Richmond’s. Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones has called a summit of the region’s police departments for early May to work out procedures for handling police pursuits that cross into other jurisdictions that may have different chase policies.

“Our No. 1 ambition is to make sure we have safety for our people,” Jones says. Henrico police say the officers in the chase followed procedures.

Already, Richmond-area police are making changes, Jones says. “We found out that the radio equipment we were using was not universal,” he says. “Even if we wanted to be in contact, we could not have been. We are changing out equipment. And we already have … an agreement for notification so that if (another police agency) sets up a checkpoint within a mile of our boundary, they’re going to notify us.”

“The sad thing is when departments make changes, it’s usually after something bad happens, and the public wakes up and says, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” says John Phillips, head of PursuitWatch.org, a non-profit group advocating safe police chases. Phillips’ sister, Sarah, 20, was a bystander killed in a police chase in Orange County, Fla., in 2001.

Trying to save lives

Restrictive chase policies save lives, says professor Alpert. He reported in a National Institute of Justice research paper that police chases in Miami-Dade County dropped from 279 a year to 51 after the department implemented a more restrictive policy.

“These police chases through our streets are killing innocent people,” says Candy Priano of Chico, Calif., executive director of the non-profit group Voices Insisting on Pursuit Safety, which she founded in 2002 after her daughter, Kristie, 15, was killed as a bystander in a police chase.

Michigan state Rep. Bert Johnson, a Detroit Democrat, is pushing to place restrictions on chases, including the conditions under which they can occur and the number of police vehicles that can participate. “We see high-speed pursuits as a bullet with four wheels,” says Ron Scott, spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, which supports the legislation.

By contrast, St. Petersburg, Fla., this month loosened its policies to allow police to chase those suspected of “forcible felonies” in addition to “violent felonies,” says Maj. Michael Puetz. “It’s a tweak of the policy to let us go ahead and pursue burglary suspects,” he says. “It’s still a restrictive policy.”

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Sent: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 8:24 PM

Subject: An Act relative to motor vehicle police chases

To the Members of the Massachusetts Joint Committee On Public Safety and Homeland Security

Dear Committee Members,

Senator Hedlund recommended that I write you directly. I was recently made aware of the bill presented by Senator Hedlund and Representative Cantwell entitled An Act relative to motor vehicle police chases(text below). I believe a similar bill was introduced in 2007 by Representatives Fallon and Hill, but it apparently went nowhere. This is a critically important issue to my family and me. I appreciate your taking several minutes to read this email.

The issue of police chases may one day directly impact you or someone you know. I pray that does not happen, but without significantly more legislation and controls, the odds are increasing just as pursuits continue to increase.

In the early morning hours of May 27, 2007, my son, Paul Farris, died as the result of a senseless high-speed police chase in Somerville. Paul and his girlfriend Katelyn were returning from a night out when an SUV being pursued by the Massachusetts State Police slammed into the taxi in which they were riding. Paul, who we were told was wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the taxi and died at the scene; the taxi driver Walid Chahine died a week later, leaving a wife and 4 year old son; Katelyn was severely injured and was unconscious for almost four weeks. She remained in Massachusetts General Hospital for four months and has continued her rehab with her parents in New York. Her ongoing physical and emotional recovery is nothing short of miraculous. This has been an indescribably sorrowful and difficult time for our families and friends. Most of us will never heal from the emotional scars.

Current Massachusetts penalties for fleeing a police officer are barely more than a downtown Boston parking fine. If there were real teeth in pursuit law (a felony with required prison time) then many chases would never start. So please know that my family (many of whom currently live in Massachusetts) and I encourage you to push this legislation aggressively. If you would like to better understand the story, then please spend a few minutes at www.paulfarris.org to learn about one amazing person that a police pursuit stole from this world.

I also ask you to seriously consider more stringent, statewide law enforcement policies controlling police pursuits. My son died as the result of a pursuit through the most densely populated city in New England at speeds exceeding 75 miles per hour – for a simple traffic offense – a misdemeanor. The driver of the SUV was not involved in a felony, had not robbed a store, had not fired a gun, or done anything else that was endangering lives. The State Trooper decided a high-speed pursuit was acceptable, even though the City of Somerville has strict no-pursuit policy because they recognize the danger a chase poses to their citizens.

Finally I ask Committee members to ensure, for public safety purposes, that this measure cannot be used as an excuse to justify a chase or to justify a continued and higher-risk pursuit. Legislators need to encourage law enforcement to use other resources available to officers to find the fleeing driver.

Throughout Massachusetts, cities and counties have different high speed pursuit standards, requirements and policies. More innocent victims will continue to be killed and maimed until the laws are significantly strengthened by limiting when and where pursuits are allowed.

Your legislation is a tremendous beginning and I implore you to push it forward with great conviction and vigor.

Jonathan Farris

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An Act relative to motor vehicle police chases. 

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

SECTION 1. Chapter 268 of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:-

Section 41. Whoever knowingly operates a motor vehicle on a street, road, alley, or highway in this state, to intentionally flee or attempt to elude a law enforcement officer after having received a signal from the officer to bring the vehicle to a stop shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than 2 years AND a fine not to exceed $5,000.

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