Typically when you hear me speak, or you read stories in which I’ve been quoted, I discuss why law enforcement had better options than a dangerous pursuit. And there definitelyare options. Purchase, implementation and usage of pursuit reduction technology tools (see PursuitResponse.org); significantly more pursuit driving training; stricter emergency vehicle operations requirements and pursuit driving policies. And the list goes on.
To that end, PFC continues to actively support law enforcement in the acquisition of technology tools and with officer safety training (@Below100).
Given that +90% of pursuits begin as the result of a misdemeanor traffic infraction or a property crime, it’s understandable why Pursuit For Change gets so many calls from media when innocent citizens are injured or killed in dangerous chases. And these calls happen frequently because someone is killed every day as the direct result of a police pursuit.
Every once in a while, however, I’m asked about a pursuit which began as the result of a violent felony. Josh Solomon, a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times (@TB_Times) called me several days ago and we had a long conversation about pursuits in general and specifically about the chase detailed in his story, included below.
In a nutshell, some bad person tried to force a woman into his vehicle. A nearby citizen called 911 and reported the assault.
The sheriff’s department responded immediately and a pursuit of the vehicle began. As you read the article you’ll learn that the fleeing driver lost control, crossed a median, and struck an innocent driver. Luckily the innocent victims survived the crash.
There are some questions surrounding the 911 call, all explained in the article. We’ll certainly learn more about the 911 Center’s follow-up communications as the investigation continues, but regardless I’m not entirely sure the pursuit could have been stopped quickly enough to prevent the crash.
Law enforcement officers have a tough job; one that requires risk assessment and often, immediate and decisive actions. LEOs need tools (strong policies; constant training; command support; etc.). We hire these folks to protect us from those willing to cause harm. I know there are way too many unnecessary chases but in many (most?) violent felony situations, we need law enforcement to do whatever is necessary to apprehend the criminal. Indeed, in these circumstances innocent citizens can be put at risk; but the need to remove these violent offenders from the street will almost always outweigh the need to break off a pursuit or to not pursue in the first place.
Josh asked me if I thought the chase was justified. My opinion? This was a violent abduction attempt. When the deputies arrived, everyone assumed the woman was in that fleeing vehicle. And even though the pursuit put the victim at risk, not pursuing likely would have placed her in even greater peril. So in this violent felony situation, with what was known at the time of first police contact, a pursuit was certainly justified.
A high-speed chase. A deadly crash. Did Pasco deputies get the right info?
by Josh Solomon (@ByJoshSolomon) Tampa Bay Times staff writer
Published: October 25, 2018
Two days after a suspect died while leading deputies on a high-speed pursuit, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco stood in front of reporters and praised the “heroism” of his deputies for trying to save a kidnapped woman trapped inside the fleeing car.
The woman, though, wasn’t in the car.
Just 28 seconds after the Oct. 13 pursuit started, her voice can be heard in the 911 call made from a gas station.
That crucial information never made it to deputies.
They continued the 2½-minute pursuit on State Road 54 until the fleeing driver crossed the median and drove into oncoming traffic, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. The incident ended in a fiery head-on collision with an oncoming pickup truck. The suspect died. The pickup driver was seriously injured.
This latest incident underscores the dangers of high-speed pursuits, a risky law enforcement tactic that has drawn scrutiny across the county. High-speed pursuits have resulted in death and injury, prompting local agencies to restrict when officers can chase a suspect.
But what happens when those officers aren’t getting the most accurate information possible? In this case, Pasco deputies were in the dark about one critical element: There was no kidnapping victim to rescue.
Why wasn’t that relayed to the pursuing deputies? Would it have made a difference?
• • •
The recording of the 911 call, and the notes taken by the call-taker, detail what preceded the vehicle pursuit.
The caller, whose name was not made public, told the call-taker that at about 8:45 p.m. a woman, later identified as Melissa Mary Russo, 44, mouthed the words “help me” to him at the Circle K gas station at 17565 S.R. 54. She was with a man who was later identified as Michael Blomberg, 54.
“Something’s not right,” the caller said.
Then the situation escalated. Blomberg tried to force the woman into a black car, the caller told 911.
“He’s got her in a … headlock, it looks like,” the caller said. “He’s got her in a bear hug right now.”
Then the caller said the man drove away in a gray Chrysler 200 sedan. Deputies dispatched to the gas station started chasing the fleeing car.
A beat later, a female voice appears on the tape of the 911 call.
“Sir, is that the female with you?” the call-taker asked.
She was. The woman had escaped Blomberg’s car and run to the caller. This was 28 seconds after the event log shows the pursuit started.
“FEM WITH CALR,” the 911 call-taker wrote. “CALR HAS FEM IN HIS VEH.” CALR is the man who called 911. FEM is for the woman.
• • •
Here’s what happens when someone calls 911 in Pasco County: Call-takers type notes as they gather information from callers, such as the location and nature of emergencies.
The call-taker’s notes appear on the computer screens of dispatchers and deputies (via their vehicle laptops.) The dispatcher also speaks to deputies over the radio.
This setup allows one person to gather information from the caller while another focuses on sending the right kind of help: officers, firefighters or paramedics.
As deputies raced to the gas station, the recorded radio transmissions reveal the dispatcher briefing them en route using the call-taker’s notes: A woman mouthed “help me.” Her assailant put her in a headlock. He tried to force her into a car. The Chrysler was driving off.
Sheriff’s cruisers, lights and sirens blaring, quickly found the fleeing car.
Blomberg did not stop.
• • •
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office policy that governs pursuits first explains how dangerous they can be:
“Vehicle pursuits conducted by law enforcement personnel often present a significant risk of danger to the safety of the general public, the deputies involved, and the occupants of the fleeing vehicle. National studies have determined that most vehicle pursuit operations conducted by law enforcement are usually short in duration and often result in a crash.”
Therefore, the policy states, Pasco deputies are not allowed to engage in pursuits unless they determine that allowing the suspect to escape is a greater danger to the public than the pursuit itself.
The Pinellas and Hillsborough Sheriff’s Offices and the Clearwater and Tampa Police Departments spell out under what circumstances their officers can chase a fleeing suspect. All involve a list of violent felonies that would justify a high-speed chase.
But in Tampa Bay law enforcement, the Pasco sheriff’s policy is the most permissive, according to Jon Farris, whose advocacy group Pursuit for Change aims to reduce unnecessary police chases. He started it after his son was killed in a taxicab struck by a driver fleeing police in 2007.
Still, the chase policies in Clearwater, Hillsborough, Pasco and Tampa would all have justified a high-speed pursuit in the Pasco case because it involved a possible kidnapping.
“This one was a unique case,” Farris said of the Blomberg pursuit.
Based on what the deputies knew at the time, he said, the Oct. 13 pursuit was justified. But what if deputies had that missing piece of information?
• • •
As the 911 call-taker typed into the computer system that the woman was at the gas station, deputies were already chasing after the Chrysler.
The pursuit headed west on State Road 54. Deputies stayed in constant radio contact with dispatchers.
“Not stopping,” a deputy reported over the radio. “Speed 60.”
A dispatcher asks if the deputies can tell if a woman is in the car. They said they couldn’t. No one in dispatch, according to the radio recordings, told the deputies that the woman was back at the gas station.
During those frantic 2½-minutes, deputies tried to puncture the fleeing car’s tires by laying “Stop Sticks” — tire-deflating spikes — onto the roadway.
Two deputies pursued the Chrysler, and each one’s body camera captured how it ended: The car crossed the highway’s median, driving west into eastbound traffic. Then, just east of Gunn Highway, the Chrysler struck an oncoming pick-up truck head-on.
Deputies dragged Bloomberg from the wreckage and tried to revive him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital. The body cameras showed deputies searching the backseat of the Chrysler for the kidnapping victim.
The pickup driver, Kirby Sober, 24, suffered burns and a severe leg injury, according to family attorney Hunter Higdon. Sober must now use a wheelchair. Doctors expect he will be able to walk again after a long recovery.
• • •
The dispatch center is under Pasco County government. County spokeswoman Tambrey Laine would not say if the deputies should have been told that the woman they were trying to rescue was not in the car.
Farris, though, said the information officers receive during a high-speed chase is critical because it determines whether the chase should continue.
“Typically when there is a pursuit the officers or deputies are being monitored by a supervisor who is involved in (making) the call of whether there’s a need to break it off,” he said.
But in this case, he said, “there’s what would appear to be a breakdown in communication.”
Laine said the dispatcher handled the Oct. 13 incident according to protocol. The dispatcher relays information to deputies until they arrive. Then the roles reverse and deputies start informing the dispatcher, she wrote in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times:
“As soon as deputies are engaged, communications begin to flow the other way, with the deputies communicating via radio from the scene to the dispatcher, who enters those notes into our computer system. The focus at this point is on the information the deputy, as a trained first responder, is relaying to the dispatcher.”
But Doll said that even if the pursuing deputies were told there was no kidnapping victim trapped in the fleeing vehicle, they may have still continued the pursuit. They would still have to confirm there was no one in danger.
“We just can’t take somebody’s word over the phone that it’s fact,” he said.
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.
CLEARWATER — Police Chief Dan Slaughter suspended two officers and a detective after an internal investigation found an unauthorized car chase led to a crash that hurt an officer and two civilians.
Det. Frederick Lise, who led the pursuit after a stolen car drove away from a traffic stop in Largo, got 10 days suspension for violating two policies related to operating department vehicles and insubordination and candor. He will also be removed from the agency’s Special Enforcement Unit.
Officers Langston Woodie and Jesse Myers, the latter of whom was hurt in the crash at Rosery Road and Clearwater-Largo Road, were handed five days of suspension for violating the agency’s operating department vehicles policy. Woodie will also be removed from the Community Problem Response Team.
“We are sorry that a civilian got hurt. We’re concerned that our own employee got hurt,” Slaughter said. “We recognize we’ve made some errors here that we’re responsible for.”
The officers and detective could not be reached for comment.
One of the injured civilians, Zoe Applegate, declined to comment through her St. Petersburg lawyer, Sean McQuaid. But McQuaid said Applegate, 20, broke her wrist and underwent emergency wrist surgery at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. She also had multiple broken ribs and head and neck injuries. Her 2015 Chevy Cruze was totaled, he said.
“It was an extremely serious accident,” McQuaid said. “They had a green light and the officer just went right through the stoplight … It had to be a traumatic impact and a surprise to her.”
The passenger in her car, William Gamble, could not be reached for comment. His lawyer did not return a call requesting comment.
According to the internal investigation, a woman reported that her black Ford Expedition had been stolen at 9:25 p.m. May 29 from the Ross Norton Recreation Complex on S Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. About 23 minutes later, Lise, who was hired in 2014, saw the stolen car and started following as it traveled south on Missouri Avenue from Druid Road. Woodie, who was hired in 2016, and Myers, who was hired in 2007, drove up to help. A fourth officer positioned himself down the road to throw tire deflation sticks if needed.
The car pulled into a Wawa on Missouri Avenue just north of Rosery Road in Largo, according to the investigation. The officers tried to conduct a traffic stop, but the Expedition got away and pulled out of the Wawa.
What they should have done at that point, Slaughter said, was stop following the car, head back to the city and notify Largo police. Under Clearwater police policy, typically only violent felonies warrant a pursuit. A stolen car does not.
“It’s tough to do. I’ll admit it,” the chief said. “You get in this profession to try to catch bad guys, so as a police officer it’s very difficult to turn around and go the other direction, but it’s for good reason that this policy exists.”
Instead, the officers chased the car west on Rosery Road and through a red light at the intersection of Clearwater-Largo Road. None had their lights and sirens on — another problem, had the pursuit been authorized to begin with, Slaughter said.
“Even if a person had a misunderstanding on what he could or couldn’t do, there’s no excuse for not utilizing lights and sirens when following a vehicle like that,” the chief said.
Lise, Woodie and the driver of the stolen car made it through. Myers collided with Applegate’s car, heading south on Clearwater-Largo Road, in the intersection. His last recorded speed before the crash was 42 mph.A bystander told investigators he ran up to Myers’ car and started pounding on the door. The officer wasn’t responsive at first. When he came to, his first instinct was to check on the civilians in the other car and his police dog, Axe.
Applegate and Gamble were taken to Bayfront. Myers was treated at Morton Plant Hospital. Axe was checked out and cleared at an animal hospital.
Meanwhile, Lise and Woodie continued after the stolen car until it stopped at 18th Street SW and 10th Avenue SW. The occupants got out of the car and ran away. A suspect was later arrested after investigators found DNA and fingerprints linking him to the car.
All three officers said in interviews with investigators that they believe they violated the pursuit policy. Lise, who is also a member of a multi-department habitual offender monitoring task force, got an additional 5-day suspension because he didn’t keep his supervisors in both the task force and Clearwater police fully informed on what was happening.
It put the other two officers, knowing Lise was in the task force with other supervisors, “in a little bit of a quandary,” Slaughter said.
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or email@example.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.
The driver of a Nissan Sentra didn’t have his headlights on during rainy weather on Nov. 16, 2016, so North Cornwall Township Patrolman Joseph Fischer pulled over driver Marvin Rosa for what he probably thought was a routine traffic stop.
But when Fischer approached, Rosa started driving again, this time with a vengeance, according to Fischer’s written testimony of events. He blew stop signs and red lights and drove 55 miles per hour on 16th Street before stopping again for Fischer, who was in pursuit, on Strawberry Alley at Center Street.
Then, while driving on Royal Road, he braked suddenly, causing Fisher’s patrol vehicle to rear-end his Sentra. That crash finally disabled Rosa’s vehicle, after which he fled on foot until police arrested him.
He later pleaded guilty to fleeing or attempting to elude an officer, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and a multitude of traffic violations.
Rosa is not the only person to throw caution to the wind and attempt to get away from Lebanon County police.
Police charged 59 people with attempting to flee or elude an officer in Lebanon County from 2014-16, almost all of them trying to escape in vehicles that police were pulling over and usually for a traffic violation. Some chases ended in fiery crashes, the death of the violator, injuries to unrelated drivers, and close calls for officers.
“Police pursuits are inherently dangerous,” said Cpl. Adam Reed, a state police spokesman.
Yet local police insist there are times when the benefits outweigh the risk.
James Cole of Lehigh County crashed into a house at 1444 N. 7th Street after leading North Lebanon Township police on a high speed chase.
How often are people hurt or injured in car chases?
According to data compiled by state police, more than 200 people were injured in Pennsylvania police pursuits in 2016. (Photo: By Daniel Walmer)
Only three people died as a result of police chases in Pennsylvania in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, according to a report compiled by state police. The report is based on information that municipal police departments are required to provide annually.
However, there were more than 800 crashes causing more than 200 injuries during chases, according to the report. There was also more than $1 million in damage to property belonging to innocent bystanders and $824,000 in damage to police vehicles.
In 2017, a person who tried to outrun police in Lebanon County died as a result. Brandon Small, 25, attempted to flee Lebanon Police but hit an electrical pole and died from injuries sustained in the crash, according to information provided by police.
How frequently do dangerous chases occur in Lebanon County?
Here are just a few of the cases from 2016 detailed in Lebanon County court records:
James Cole attempted to outrun North Lebanon Township police at 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2016 in a Nissan Altima after being stopped for going 53 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone, according to an affidavit of probable cause from Sergeant Timothy Knight. During the ensuing chase, he drove through multiple yards and a farmer’s field, drove at a police vehicle and just missed, and blew a stop sign, Knight wrote. Eventually, he lost control and crashed into a house on North Seventh Street. “The vehicle started a fire and we had to get the occupant out of the house,” Knight wrote.
Shane Petry drove a sports car through a fire police barricade, causing the fire policewoman to call police. He pulled over. When asked by North Lebanon Township Patrolman Gregory Behney for his license Petry “said ‘sure’ and reached toward his shifter and then hit the gas and started driving away at a high speed.” The chase ended as he was driving north on North Eighth Avenue, went through the Lehman Street red light, and hit a vehicle that was attempting to turn left form Lehman Street onto North Eighth Avenue. The woman driving that car appeared to be injured, Behney wrote.
Motorcyclist Victor Roman fled Lebanon police by driving on a sidewalk and on the opposite side of the road, forcing motorists and cyclists to bail.
Motorcyclist Adam Conway drove against traffic for about a mile on Route 22 and drove more than 50 miles per hour in a 25 mile-per-hour zone in Jonestown with pedestrians around.
Brandon Beatty hit two state police vehicles with his Subaru after driving more than 120 miles per hour on Route 22 and Route 743.
To be sure, not every case in which a person is charged for fleeing or eluding an officer is as dramatic. Gus Valmas faced the charge after failing to pull over in 2015, but police said he never exceeded 35 miles per hour during the pursuit.
Yet dangerous chases have also occurred more recently. In February, Harrisburg resident Francisco Rivera-Vazquez drove 115 miles per hour on Interstate 81 in Lebanon County while passing cars on the shoulder during a chase, according to police. In August, Myerstown resident Michael Richard Brown fled police and drove 88 miles per hour in a 15 mile-per-hour zone on West Mckinley Avenue in Jackson Township, police said.
Still, almost all drivers pull over when they see the flashing lights.
North Londonderry Township police have only been involved in seven pursuits since 2004, according to Police Chief Kevin Snyder. North Cornwall Township only averages 1-2 pursuits per year, Chief John Leahy said.
“Some (officers) can go their entire career without a vehicle pursuit, which is absolutely fine with me,” he said.
How do police decide whether to pursue?
Leahy said determining whether or not to chase a fleeing driver boils down to one basic rule: “when the risk to the general public outweighs what you are (pursuing) the person for, the chase needs to be terminated.”
Yet there are a multitude of factors that officers are trained to consider, local police chiefs said, including traffic volumes, the weather, likelihood of pedestrians in the area, and whether the officer has been able to get a license plate number.
“You’re going to make your decision in a matter of milliseconds,” Leahy said.
The nature of the violation that caused the officer to pull over the vehicle in the first place is also important.
“If it’s a suspected summary offense, the risk outweighs the benefits, so there’s other ways of pursuing that,” North Lebanon Township Police Chief Harold Easter said. “But if it’s a high-profile case, then everything is bumped up and we assume some more risk in order to get that person stopped, because if we (don’t) get them stopped, they might be killing somebody down the road.”
Yet even according to data self-reported by police departments, more than half of 2016 Pennsylvania police chases began with an attempt to pull someone over for a traffic violation and only 13 percent were due to felonies. Almost all of the pursuits in Lebanon County checked by the Lebanon Daily News began with traffic violations.
Pursuit For Change Chief Advocate Jonathan Farris would like to see chases limited to violent felons. Farris started Pursuit of Change after his son, Paul Farris, was killed while riding in a taxi that was struck by a motorist who was fleeing police.
“I do believe that no simple misdemeanor is worth putting law enforcement officers or bystanders at risk,” Farris wrote in an email. “It’s different if the police are chasing an active shooter, a carjacker, a rapist, etc. But no one will ever convince me that the death of my son and the driver of the taxi he was in should have occurred because of an insanely dangerous pursuit after a man who simply made an illegal u-turn and then ran because he didn’t have a valid license. But sadly, these sorts of senseless deaths continue to occur across the US every week and day.”
What are the official policies of Lebanon County police departments?
The Lebanon Daily News was unable to learn the details of various police pursuit policies in Lebanon County because state law mandates that such policies “shall be confidential and shall not be made available to general public.”
According to Snyder, the policies are something that “obviously don’t want the criminal element to know.”
Yet the “vast majority” of states, counties and cities nationwide will release their pursuit policies to the media when requested, Farris said.
“It seems silly to me that PA legislators mandated this,” he wrote.
Leahy said each officer is aware of the policies and procedures in effect and can be subject to disciplinary measures if those procedures aren’t followed.
How do police stop a fleeing vehicle?
In many cases, the technology for stopping someone who has fled has not changed much in the past decade. Aside from simply following, the most popular technique for many departments, including North Lebanon and North Londonderry, is using spikes that deflate the tires of the vehicle, causing it to eventually stop.
State police are trained to use the PIT maneuver, in which the officer intentionally makes contact with the side of the fleeing vehicle in such a way that the tires skid and spin out, according to Reed.
North Lebanon does not perform PIT maneuvers because of the danger involved and the significant training required to perform it safely, Easter said. Leahy said North Cornwall would not rule out ending the chase by making contact with the vehicle if circumstances justified it, such as pursuit of a violent felon whose freedom the officer believes puts the public at risk.
People who choose to flee are panicked, often because they have a suspended license, have an outstanding warrant, or are afraid of what the officer will find in the car, police said – but it’s still almost always a bad idea.
“Statistically speaking, it’s very rare that a person gets away and is not apprehended,” Reed said.
Across Pennsylvania, just 14 percent of fleeing vehicles successfully eluded police in 2016, according to the state police report.
Officers also warned that you even if you outrun a police vehicle, police can identify you through your license plate information. When you are apprehended, you’ll be looking at a possible felony and jail term, and almost certainly a worse sentence than you would have received for just pulling over.
Even after a chase starts, a person will be treated more favorably by law enforcement and the courts if they quickly end the chase, Easter said.
“They need to rethink it real fast and pull over, and if they’re driving under suspension, without a license – take your lumps,” he said. “It’s better than getting involved in an accident and killing themselves or somebody else.”
adminHigh speed chases in Lebanon County lead to dangerous crashes
Jonathan Farris has never been able to make sense of his son’s death.
Paul Farris was 23 when the taxi he and his girlfriend were in was struck by an SUV being chased by a Massachusetts state trooper after a traffic violation.
“If Paul was killed as a result of a violent felony … where a person’s life was put at risk, we could understand that,” Farris said. “But Paul was killed as a result of a guy making an illegal U-turn.”
Now, 11 years later, Jonathan Farris can’t make sense of new billboards warning four-wheeled lawbreakers of the consequences of fleeing Milwaukee police.
“Does anyone actually believe that a few billboards will have ANY impact on Milwaukee’s criminal driving problems?” Farris, founder of Madison-based Pursuit for Change, asked this week in an open letter to Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales and the city’s Fire and Police Commission.
The national organization advocates for safer police pursuit policies, more pursuit training for officers and technology that helps reduce the need for pursuits.
“Criminals could care less what is printed on a billboard,” Farris said.
The cost of the billboards is even more perplexing to Farris since Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council approved funding for expanded GPS tracking technology for new police vehicles.
“If you’re going to spend money, put it back into things that help reduce pursuits,” Farris says in the letter.
Morales has said the billboards serve as a reminder of the reckless driving initiative launched by Milwaukee police, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office and the State Patrol earlier this year.
He added that the initiative is bolstered by his department’s pursuit policy, which was revised a year ago to allow officers to chase drivers suspected of nonviolent felonies such as drug possession and reckless driving.
The department had tightened the policy in 2010 after four bystanders were killed by drivers fleeing police. The policy then stated that officers could not chase for misdemeanor offenses, such as drug possession, or nonviolent felonies, such as burglary.
Morales was unavailable for comment Thursday and Friday, but a police spokeswoman said the reckless driving initiative has resulted in about 2,500 traffic-related citations and the seizure of a significant amount of drugs and illegal money.
“Our priority is to keep the streets of Milwaukee safe,” Sgt. Sheronda Grant said, also noting a 21% drop in fatal crashes.
On June 7, Milwaukee Police Officer Charles Irvine Jr., 23, was killed when the squad he was in crashed on the city’s northwest side during a pursuit of a reckless driver. His partner, Officer Matthew Schulze, was driving and was injured in the rollover crash.
The suspected fleeing driver, Ladell Harrison, 29, has been charged with 11 felonies.
Thousands of bystanders killed, injured
Nationally, from 1979 to 2015, more than 5,000 bystanders and passengers — including Paul Farris — were killed and thousands more injured during police pursuits at high speeds and in hazardous conditions, often for minor infractions, according to an analysis by USA TODAY.
Paul Farris was born in Milwaukee, grew up in Minneapolis and earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, in 2006.
He was thelead singerof an indie rock band called theMark, was working as an insurance adjuster and had just completed law school entrance exams.
“He was an outgoing, active, smart, engaged young man,” his father recalled.
“He had a lot of best friends.”
Early on May 27, 2007, Paul Farris and his girlfriend were in Somerville, Massachusetts, in a taxi driven by Walid Chahine, 45.
Shortly before 1:30 a.m., Javier Morales, then 29, fled a trooper attempting to stop him in nearby Everett for a traffic violation in his Mercury Mountaineer.
Morales led the trooper on a high-speed chase through Everett, Medford and finally Somerville, where his SUV slammed into the taxi, fatally injuring Farris and critically injuring his girlfriend and Chahine.
An Open Letter to Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales and the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission
From Jonathan Farris Chief Advocate Pursuit For Change
In the summer of 2017 I addressed the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission about their directive forcing then Police Chief Flynn to reinstate dangerous non-violent felony vehicle pursuits.
I asked the Commissioners, “How will you respond when innocent bystanders are injured and killed for chases started under this new policy?” “How will you respond when those innocent citizens bring legal actions because this purposefully weakened policy was the direct cause of the injury or death?” and, “Have you considered other available options including funding additional technology tools proven to reduce the need for more pursuits while still allowing the capture of car thieves, drug dealers and joyriding kids?”
The Commission chose to ignore these serious concerns and instead did what no other city in the US has done. They mandated increasingthe number of allowable pursuits throughout Milwaukee’s densely populated neighborhoods.
Likely as a result of that change, and very tragically, Officer Charles Irvine was killed in a pursuit related crash in June 2018. Officer Irvine was the same age as my son, who was also killed in an unnecessary police pursuit. Could technology or more pursuit driving training have prevented Officer Irvine’s death? Sadly, we will never know.
In June I read that Chief Morales and the MFPC are planning to spend precious and limited police funds for BILLBOARDSadvertising that, “Milwaukee Police chase bad guys.” Really? Does anyone actually believe that a few billboards will have ANY impact on Milwaukee’s criminal driving problems? Criminals could care less what is printed on a billboard. The billboard expense is even more perplexing since the mayor and city council already voted to fund an expansion of GPS tracking technology and the supporting policy stating the system shall be installed on each new police vehicle.
Does anyone find it strange that the Chief and MFPC are leaning so heavily on pursuing fleeing offenders, no matter the reason, rather than strengthening pursuit policies, increasing officer training and using more pursuit-reduction technology the agency has already committed to implementing? I certainly do.
Milwaukee’s 2018 pursuits are up 239 percent, and each of those chases endangers officers and citizens. How can anyone consider that to be a good thing?
Milwaukee is not alone in its pursuit-related problems. I recently spoke with Massachusetts media when an innocent father was killed while returning home from the hospital after visiting his newborn daughter for the very first time. These unnecessary pursuit-related bystander and officer deaths continue to occur across the country every day.
Spending money on billboard advertising is wasteful. It will not help Milwaukee to reduce reckless driving, nor reduce dangerous pursuits, nor save innocent lives. However, allocating additional funds for officer training and acquisition of pursuit reduction tools will help protect officers and bystanders while still dealing with the criminals.
Jonathan Farris Chief Advocate
adminAn Open Letter to Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales and the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission
NBC Boston 2018 Police Pursuit Investigative Stories
A note from Jonathan Farris, Chief Advocate, Pursuit For Change August 17, 2018
I’m driving across Ohio on Interstate 80 and my phone rings. I don’t recognize the number, so I ignore the call. Several minutes later my phone signals that I have an email. And that’s how this most recent NBC news story came about.
Reporter Ally Donnelly and a team of NBC Boston investigative journalists asked if I could be available for a story they were working on. They also asked to be connected to Kate.
The request came as a result of yet anotherhorrible and unnecessary police pursuit death. This time, a new father was coming home from his first visit with his newborn daughter in the hospital. He was struck by someone fleeing police.
Ally Donnelly, Danielle Waugh and Ken Tompkins were each involved with my interviews. Danielle and Ken drove to Gardiner, Maine to meet with me. Ally met with Kate at the site of Paul’s death. There are also videos about training and technology, the key to saving lives.
Below are the stories and videos.
Victims, Police Want More Training and Funding to Reduce Risk of Police Pursuits
We are constantly seeing examples of police pursuing suspects in vehicles. Many of these pursuits are unavoidable, but there is an inherent risk to the public as vehicles weave through neighborhoods or reach speeds of more than 100 mph on highways. Here’s a look at some notable police chases from around the country.
(Published Friday, Aug. 10, 2018)
The Mashpee crash opened old wounds for families like the Farrises and the Hoyts. Victims of crashes that result from police pursuits, their families, and police themselves say that a lack of training, funding and scrutiny of pursuits is putting everyone at risk.
According to the State Police report of Farris’ crash, Trooper Joseph Kalil spotted a black Mercury SUV make an illegal U-turn on Route 16 in Everett. Kalil flipped on his lights and tried to pull over the driver, but he took off.
Kalil chased, following the SUV into the densely populated residential streets in Medford and Somerville.
The driver, Javier Morales, turned off College Avenue onto Kidder Avenue, where he crashed into the cab carrying Farris and Hoyt at the intersection with Highland Road.
“There should be no reason to have a chase here,” Hoyt said, revisiting the intersection this month with a reporter. “It just blows your mind.”
Jon Farris agrees.
“If I had been told that they were pursuing someone who shot somebody, had raped somebody, truly a violent felon, Paul would still be dead. I would still be heartbroken. But I would understand that,” Farris said. “The fact that a guy made an illegal U-turn and then ran from police, ultimately we found out that he just didn’t have a driver’s license. He was running because he was afraid he was going to go to jail, which he would have. But that made no sense to me. And so Paul’s dead and in my mind, there’s zero reason.”
Mashpee police are continuing to investigate a crash that killed three people last month. Police pursued an erratic driver who failed to stop. He ended up crashing head on into an SUV driven by a new father on his way home from the hospital. That crash has stirred difficult memories for victims and families of other police pursuit crashes. They tel…Read more
(Published Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018)
Fred Leland, a retired Walpole police lieutenant who trains police in pursuit conduct, said cops “live in the gray” of unknowns and potential danger when deciding in the heat of the moment whether to pursue a driver speeding away.
“What if I say, ‘You know what it’s not that serious I’m gonna let him go,’ and then he goes down the street and hits somebody anyway?” he said.
Despite the media spotlight on dramatic pursuits, like one a month ago in Las Vegas where an officer returned fire through his own windshield at a fleeing vehicle he knew held dangerous felons, most attempted stops are more mundane.
According to the Department of Justice, two-thirds of pursuits begin, like the crashes in Somerville and Mashpee, with a traffic violation: speeding, erratic driving or a suspended license.
And for police, the chase itself is often a trial by fire. Leland said local departments do not get enough training, and real-world pursuits are not common for a given officer.
“We don’t have much experience in pursuits,” Leland said. “I know we’re the police and you see them on television and you think, ‘Oh you do them all the time.’ But no, we don’t.”
Officers get 48 hours of driving training when they first join the police academy. Pursuits are part of it, but what happens after that depends on their department.
“Some places do more, some places do less,” said Steve Wojnar, chief of the Dudley Police Department and president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.
He said all departments have written pursuit policies, but like the situations officers face, none are the same. And he agreed that training officers in pursuits should be mandatory.
“You never know exactly what it’s going to be like. You’re going to constantly reassess and re-evaluate the situation,” he said. “How are you going to function under a stressful situation? Are you going to be able to react? Are you going to be able to react properly?
But, as always, the obstacle for cash-strapped departments is paying for it.
“Training is the last thing to be funded and the first thing to be cut when there’s problems and that’s bad,” Leland said.
Bad, too, for a father who lost a son over an illegal U-turn.
“I don’t want other people to have to go through it. I shouldn’t have to be crying every other day when I’m mowing the lawn. It’s horrible,” Farris said.
Farris has been pushing federal legislation that would require departments to track pursuits and would fund more training. He also favors policies that would restrict when officers can pursue to when the officer knows he is chasing a violent felon.
Wojnar hopes training money could also come from the local police training bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed last week.
Training and Technology Can Reduce Police Pursuits, But Funding Is Lacking
Published at 7:44 PM EDT on Aug 10, 2018 | Updated at 11:45 PM EDT on Aug 10, 2018
Some police departments in Massachusetts are re-evaluating their policies or looking for ways to avoid high-speed chases altogether to minimize fatal crashes and severe injuries.
But while many police chiefs agree that training and new devices can help reduce casualties in police pursuits, expensive technological tools and underfunded training budgets inhibit cash-strapped local departments from making changes.
“But we’re not going to chase it at 100 miles per hour, or we’re not going to have people giving themselves a potential for danger just for a person that was stopped for a red light,” Moore said.
Specific training is not required for pursuits like it is for firearms or Tasers. Each department sets its own policy on pursuits where officers and usually supervisors weigh the reason for the initial stop against the risk to the public if they chase. Most pursuits start over a minor traffic violation.
Officer Derek Licata, the Methuen department’s training coordinator, said training is critical because officers in that instant, or any high-stress situation, goes “instantly into fight or flight mode.”
“It can actually sometimes cause you to lose focus of what you’re doing, kind of end up getting tunnel vision and not really focusing on the big picture,” he said.
According to federal data, about one person is killed each day in police pursuits across the country. Between 1982 and 2016, 225 people have been killed during police pursuits in Massachusetts, about a third innocent bystanders.
Three people in Barnstable were killed late last month, including a new father coming home from the hospital.
That chase started after a driver refused to pull over in Mashpee, and the officer gave chase along Route 28. The driver crashed head-on into an SUV carrying the new father, a Marine. The Marine, the driver, and the driver’s girlfriend all died in the crash.
“Nobody wants that to happen. Nobody went out with the intent of that happening,” said Fred Leland, a retired police lieutenant from Walpole who now consults with departments on training.
Leland said local departments need more training in how and when to chase. But in the heat of the moment, when an officer hears of a speeding, erratic driver blowing through stop signs, he knows the officer thinks: “Danger. I think this guy’s putting people in danger.”
Methuen has not had to deploy its tracking device, officers there said. And they intend for the system to obviate the need for high-speed pursuits in the city from now on.
“The days of people just chasing cars, for us, they’re over,” Moore said. “We don’t look forward to that and we’re certainly not trained or encouraged to do it.”
Multiple Massachusetts police chiefs told NBC10 Boston they need more funding to buy technology like StarChase and to train officers.
But they are also calling on lawmakers to dramatically increase the penalty for failing to stop for police. They think making it a felony would greatly reduce the number of people who flee.
Currently, failing to stop for police is a $100 fine.
adminNBC Boston 2018 Police Pursuit Investigative Stories
By Jonathan Farris, Chief Advocate for Pursuit For Change.
This Is Not Just Another Day
Every year since my son Paul was killed, on the anniversary of his death, I’ve posted a note. Perhaps on Facebook, at PaulFarris.org, at PursuitForChange.org or some other place for others to read. I suspect I’ll continue this forever.
These stories typically focus on my personal feelings and on the never-ending issue of dangerous non-violent felony police chases.
I can tell you that the anniversary of the death of a child is seared into your brain. It hurts so very much. It tears at your heart and at your soul. It never lets go. But we go on…
Paul was an innocent victim, killed during a police chase after a man running from misdemeanor traffic violation. Because of that I’ve expended years of heartache and energy telling his story to anyone who will listen. Today both Pursuit For Change and Pursuit Response continue efforts by working with law enforcement agencies and legislators. Our goals?
> SAVE LIVES. Innocent bystanders and law enforcement officers
> Reduce the number of misdemeanor and property-crime pursuits
> Develop robust and mandatory Federal tracking for all police pursuit deaths and injuries
> Help law enforcement develop more measured and significantly stricter pursuit policies for their officers
> Share new technologies that will allow for fewer pursuits while still allowing police to catch the bad guys
These goals are simple; making them happen is incredibly difficult. But this effort, too, is part of living our lives in a more meaningful way.
There are deadly #PoliceChase deaths across the world. This is a well done segment by the hosts of The AM Show at Newshub in New Zealand. @NewshubNZ@TheAMShowNZ. Looking for solutions / options and not tossing out blame. #PursuitReductionTech and more driving training WILL help @Pursuit4Change@PursuitResponse
Police not to blame for pursuit deaths – union
12/03/2018 Dan Satherley
Between October 2016 and September last year, seven deaths and 552 crashes were recorded out of around 3600 pursuits.
The Police Association says police aren’t to blame for the deaths of three people in a pursuit that ended in a crash on Sunday.
Around 5:40am, police tried to stop a car in Richmond, south of Nelson. A six-kilometre chase ended in tragedy when the fleeing vehicle crossed the centre line, crashing into a vehicle coming the other way.
“You never overtake on the top of Burke’s Bank because you can’t see what’s on the other side,” Tasman District Mayor Richard Kempthorne told The AM Show on Monday.
Two of the dead were in the fleeing vehicle, the third a member of the public. Police Association president Chris Cahill told The AM Show police can’t be held responsible for the deaths.
“It isn’t the police chasing that’s causing these deaths – it’s the manner of the driving and the people failing to stop. They are the people responsible – not the police officers.”
Det Insp Cahill said the existing rules are “very strict”.
“When a pursuit or fleeing driver incident starts, you immediately have to call through to the communications centre. They take control of the decision-making – you explain the conditions on the road, the speed, the amount of traffic, also that the reason the fleeing driver has taken off in the first place. “The communicator in the comms centre is the decision-maker as to whether that continues or not.
“It takes it away from the police officer in the car who may get tunnel vision, who may have the adrenalin rush going on.”
Police have continually update the comms person on what’s happening. They wouldn’t back a ban on pursuits without “considerable research” first, but doubt it would work.
Det Insp Cahill says Queensland’s restrictive rules on pursuits have resulted in “a lot of young people racing around all over the show, thinking they can get away with it”.
“Do you really think it would be safe just to let people drive on the roads at any speed they want, as drunk as they want, and the police are just going to wave them by? I don’t think the public would let that happen.”
And previous experiments in New Zealand haven’t worked either, he says.
“They started driving the wrong way down the motorway, things like that, ramming into police vehicles, knowing the police would stop. We need to be really careful thinking a ban would be all our answers.”
Det Insp Cahill says penalties need to be increased for drivers who fail to stop.
“If you’re drink driving and you know you’re going to get no further penalty if you fail to stop, what’s the incentive to stop? You need to know if you don’t stop your car is going to be taken… you’re going to face terms of imprisonment.”
Mr Kempthorne says he backs the police, saying the blame lies with those fleeing.
“I don’t want to be disrespectful for any family or friends involved, but we’ve got to be really aware some driver behaviour on the road is really bad.”
Police are currently reviewing their chase policy, which is due to be completed later this year. Police Minister Stuart Nash said he has asked for an update on their progress.
National Party leader Simon Bridges said he’s interested to see the evidence on police chases, and is interested in what other jurisdictions have tried.
“Instinctively, I’m with the police. I don’t think you can have a situation, it would be really bad if they can’t actually make sure that people stop when they’re pursuing them. People should stop,” he told The AM Show.
“If you say police should never do this, what happens then? Does that mean everyone thinks, ‘Well, I’m not stopping. I’m gonna keep on going.'”
The road toll so far this year stands at 77 – nine more than at the same point in 2016, which was a much deadlier year on the roads than 2015.
adminPolice not to blame for pursuit deaths (New Zealand)
W.I.N. is an acronym for Life’s Most Powerful Question – What’s Important Now? Why are these three words Life’s Most Powerful Question? Because of their simplicity and their diversity. W.I.N. is a guiding principle for leadership, training, planning, decision making, personal growth and life.
X is the ‘X’ Factor; the unknown. The unknown is what exactly you will experience during this one day event that will change your life. The X also stands for the known: Xcellent speakers who will provide an Xceptional Xperience and 10X value for your investment.
This is not your normal law enforcement training event filled with long and often boring presentations. WINx is a fast paced, dynamic event with presentations that are only 18 minutes. The topics, all of which relate to the law enforcement profession will challenge you, engage you and inspire you to action.
In addition to a number of experiential surprises there will be an opportunity to explore some of the concepts in more detail by engaging the speakers in additional dialogue.
If you are happy with the status quo and are not willing to be part of the growth and evolution of the law enforcement profession then this event is not for you.
However, if you are:
Committed to being part of the growth and advancement of the law enforcement profession.
You believe that leadership is about action.
You are willing to embrace the pursuit of excellence and fight against mediocrity.
Over the last six months, the WCPO I-team has collected records from 40 different police departments and reviewed thousands of disciplinary cases involving officers. Our motives are simple: We want to make sure the people who protect us and enforce our laws are worthy of the high level of trust the public gives them. Read more about this project and why we are doing it here.
SHARONVILLE, Ohio — Cynthia Kennedy, of Liberty Township, was driving along Sharon Road on July 4, 2015, when a speeding vehicle slammed into her car.
“It was very scary for me,” Kennedy said in an interview with the WCPO I-Team. “I did see a car coming very fast, and then I saw policce lights behind it. I saw them coming, and I tried to shift back, but the car wouldn’t move, and he came so fast that I couldn’t get the car in gear.
“It was very traumatic.”
According to a Sharonville police officer’s report, the crash marked the end of a two-and-a-half minute high-speed chase along Interstate 75 around 6:30 p.m. The chase began after an officer observed then 33-year-old Jeremy Baker operating his vehicle at speeds approaching 120 miles per hour.
The I-Team reviewed records from 40 police departments serving the Tri-State, focusing on the agencies in seven metro area counties in Ohio and Kentucky. Reporters studied thousands of incidents involving police in large and small law enforcement agencies to see how police officers are held accountable.
We weren’t sure what we would find when we began collecting these records, but our goal was making sure the public was aware of how law enforcement agencies handle discipline.
Those records showed that guidelines for high-speed pursuits of suspects can be broad and sometimes inconsistent across jurisdictions.
I-Team reporters also found that even when a department has a policy against chasing suspects at high speeds, some departments do not consistently discipline offending officers.
It’s a regional issue that Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said needs fixing.
“I think we should all be on the same page, not only in pursuits, but in most of the things we do,” he told WCPO. “It’s certainly something that I’m willing to be a part of and even take the leadership on to see if we can have a more uniform policy in the region.”
‘Consistent with policy’?
Kennedy, her passenger, and Baker recovered from their injuries, but it could have been a far more tragic story: Law enforcement leaders view emergency vehicular pursuits as a huge safety threat.
“I think vehicle pursuits are one of the most dangerous activities that our officers engage in,” Isaac told the I-Team. “Not only for themselves, but for the community at large.”
Tulsa Police Maj. Travis Yates, who runs a national pursuit-training academy, told USA Today the same thing: “A pursuit is probably the most unique and dangerous job law enforcement can do.
“We’re not taking it seriously enough because we think that one day of training that an officer may have gotten in their academy is going to take effect 10 years later when a pursuit begins,” he said. “Most officers will never fire their firearms ever, but we train one to four times a year” on how to fire guns.
Police ultimately charged Baker with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, failure to control a vehicle and excessive speed, among other charges.
None of the three officers involved in the chase faced any sort of disciplinary action.
The internal review documents above include notes indicating the officers were traveling at speeds above 100 miles per hour and weaving through traffic while pursuing Baker. It also indicates an officer ran a red light at more than 50 miles per hour, and that one of the squad cars involved was in pursuit with its emergency lights on, but not its siren.
When it comes to speed, the Sharonville Police Department does not specify a certain speed at which pursuing officers need to stand down. The policy reads:
“When a motor vehicle pursuit exposes any officer, member of the public or suspect to unnecessary risk, then the pursuit is inconsistent with the policy of the Sharonville Police Department and should be terminated.”
The policy also specifies that officers in a pursuit must come to “a controlled slow/stop before proceeding under a red light,” but does not further define the term “controlled slow/stop.” As for the lights and siren — they’re a must.
Of the 30 police pursuit policies WCPO obtained, the most common criteria dictating officers’ best practices are:
According to Sharonville Police Lt. Jim Nesbit, the review of Baker’s pursuit found nothing that didn’t fit departmental policy.
“In the review of the pursuits, as I understand it, (the officers’ actions) were found consistent with policy that was in place at the time,” Nesbit told the I-Team.
The crash still haunting Kennedy was one of the eight pursuits involving Sharonville officers in 2015. In half of those pursuits, Sharonville officers hit speeds of at least 110 miles per hour. Five of those eight pursuits ended in crashes.
Out of those crashes, the Sharonville department hasn’t disciplined any officers involved in pursuits during the last three years, WCPO’s research indicates.
Across the Tri-State, law enforcement agencies have 44 pursuit policy violations on record since 2013. Discipline ranged from a verbal warning to additional training to — in rare instances — suspension.
Some cases involved officers speeding without their lights and sirens activated, or failing to end a pursuit when they were ordered to do so. In other cases, supervisors got in trouble because they didn’t intervene when there was was a pursuit violation under their command. And sometimes, officers put their own lives at risk by not wearing a seat belt during a high-speed chase, according to police documents.
One case involved a Butler County dispatcher who “froze-up” when a deputy went on a pursuit; other dispatchers had to take over.
Of the 44 reported policy violations, here’s a breakdown of the disciplinary measures taken:
Those violations came from these jurisdictions:
Blue Ash PD
Butler County Sheriff’s Office
Delhi Township PD
Fort Wright PD
Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office
Taylor Mill PD
Warren County Sheriff’s Office
Nesbit stressed the importance of officers’ discretion and decision-making in helping avoid these chase scenarios.
“Their good judgment has to come into play when they are in the field,” he said. “Our officers have exhibited good judgment.”
But even in Sharonville’s one pursuit so far this year, an officer drove more than 100 miles per hour on wet pavement. The detailed review noted excessive speed and wet road conditions, but the officer still wasn’t disciplined.
Instead, the officer went through what Nesbit called “corrective measures.”
“Corrective measures were taken to make sure that his decision-making was consistent with our policy and our best practices placing public safety as the number one priority,” Nesbit said.
Those corrective measures did not include a written reprimand or a suspension, nor was the incident recorded as a violation.
Sharonville PD has since revised its policies regarding vehicle pursuits and undid a requirement that officers always pursue if the driver is a felony suspect, even across state lines.
Several police chiefs told the I-Team that inconsistent discipline reflects the inconsistent expectations of officers in pursuits: Some departments never pursue. Some only pursue if the subject is suspected on a felony charge. Some pursue for something as minor as a traffic violation. Some have restrictions on weather or road conditions.
Some have speed limits. Some don’t.
Another common phrase in police pursuit policies: “per the officer’s judgment.”
Having broad language in policy makes it difficult to enforce and discipline violating officers, said Phil Stinson, associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University. Stinson has researched police practices for decades, and said some pursuit policies are strict, while others allow considerable leeway for officers.
“If there’s no written policy or if the policy is very vague, you’re not going to have much in the way of discipline,” Stinson told the I-Team.
Pursuits’ lasting impact
For Kennedy, just being in a car still gives her anxiety, two years after the crash.
“I get chest pains sometimes,” she told the I-Team. “It’s caused a lot of emotional stress for me.”
Kennedy is part of the roughly 30 percent of people involved in police pursuit collisions nationwide who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which says hundreds of Americans die each year in police pursuits.
Meantime, she took the I-Team to the scene of her crash hoping to convince police to slow down and reconsider the urge to race to justice.
“I have, I guess you could say, a little post-traumatic stress from being hit,” she said. “There’s other means of pursuing an individual rather than a high-speed pursuit and endangering others.”
WCPO Web Editor Joe Rosemeyer and freelance journalists Laura Consolo, Kevin Eigelbach, Hannah Hagedorn and Roxanna Swift, contributed to this report.
adminIf pursuits are one of police’s most ‘dangerous activities,’ should policies be stricter?
Down the road in Raleigh, they found the van Erieyana was riding in on its side, and McGregory’s wrecked sedan nearby.
McGregory’s passenger, 25-year-old Shaday Taylor, lost her life, as did Erieyana.
“I can’t believe she’s not here,” Holloway-Burks said with a heavy sigh.
“One person a day dies in a police pursuit,” Jonathan Farris said when he learned about the deadly crash.
Farris is with “Pursuit for Change,” a national police pursuit victims’ advocacy group. It focuses on policy, legislation, technology and training to save innocent civilian and police lives.
He knows Holloway-Burks’ pain all too well.
“Ten years ago, my son was killed,” Farris said. “It was the result of a pursuit that occurred after an illegal U-turn.
“The driver failed to stop for the officer and they pursued.”
Both of these cases point to the biggest change Farris’ group aims to make when it comes to police chases – stop using them for lesser crimes.
“Today, about 90 percent of pursuits are [for a] non-violent felony,” Farris said. “The majority are misdemeanors, traffic violations or something of that sort.”
Farris travels the country providing training to law enforcement to help guide their decision-making process of when to pursue. He also points to technology, such as GPS tracking “darts” and OnStar services that can disable a car, as alternatives to high-speed pursuits.
He says federal grants are available for that technology, and he thinks that’s more cost-effective in the long run, especially considering lawsuits against police departments brought on by grieving families.
“Sadly, that’s what we see most often,” Farris said. “There’s some event, typically tragic, [where] someone is either grievously hurt or someone is killed or a lawsuit is filed before the changes occur.”
“It’s not fair that she’s not here,” Eriel Holloway said with tears streaming down her face. “She should be here with us.”
Eriel is Erieyana’s twin sister. When she spoke with CBS North Carolina’s evening anchor Sean Maroney, she had just turned 15 years old.
“It’s not the same,” Eriel said, wiping away the tears that continued to flow freely. “Each year on our birthday we used to eat cake together, to celebrate together.
“Now it’s just me all by myself.”
“Mothers need to embrace their children,” Holloway-Burks said, sitting near her remaining twin daughter. “Hug them and kiss them every day.”
“When they walk out that door,” Holloway-Burks gestured to the front door, her voice breaking and tears starting to flow again, “they’re not guaranteed to walk back through it.
“It’s not promised.”
Erieyana’s family has enlisted the services of an attorney. CBS North Carolina reached out to Garner police, and they didn’t want to go on camera or comment on this case, citing “a recent pursuit that still may go to litigation.”
However, they did send CBS North Carolina a copy of their vehicle pursuit policy, as did Raleigh and Durham’s police departments and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
After a change to their policy this summer, the Highway Patrol now restricts state troopers from pursuing a vehicle in a chase if the fleeing car is traveling more than 55 miles per hour and the suspect did not commit a felony.
Jack Phoenix, a.k.a. SAKE, was the victim of a hit and run in 2015. He was crossing Venice Blvd at 8:30 pm on a Sunday night. Police were chasing a stolen car at high speed. There were no lights, no sirens. “TO SERVE AND PROTECT”. He was only fifteen. He would have been sixteen a month later on Christmas Eve.
by Jonathan Farris Chief Advocate, Pursuit For Change
On July 27, 2017 Mr. Farris drove to Milwaukee to address the MFPC. Below is his statement.
“Today, again, I drove here for an opportunity to address this Commission regarding the issue of police pursuits.
Pursuit For Change is an organization focusing on pursuit policies, legislation, technology and officer training designed to reduce unnecessary police chases and save citizen and police officer lives.
As I explained to the FPC on June 15th, my 23-year old son was an innocent victim, killed in an unnecessary police chase outside of Boston in 2007. In that crash, a second innocent citizen died and another was so severely injured that her recovery took many years.
That was a fateful pursuit that occurred in a densely populated city not all that different than Milwaukee.
I have been following the highly publicized and generally contentious pursuit policy-related communications between Milwaukee’s Aldermen, the FPC and Chief Flynn. I have also read the FPC’s July 13, 2017 pursuit directive issued to Chief Flynn.
I am disappointed FPC did not consider, as I requested, allowing Pursuit For Change an opportunity to address you before you issued this directive.
For years now, all across the United States, local law enforcement, Sheriff’s departments and State police have continued to strengthen their pursuit policies in an effort to reduce chases. This is especially true as it relates to pursuits in densely populated jurisdictions.
Other law enforcement and legislative bodies are certainly NOT weakening pursuit policies.
How will the FPC respond when innocent bystanders are injured and killed for chases started under this new policy?
And how will the FPC and City of Milwaukee respond when those innocent citizens bring legal actionsbecause the FPC weakened policy, contrary to other jurisdictions, was the direct cause of the injury or death?
Finally, have you considered other already available options? Have you considered funding additional technology tools that are proven to safely reduce the need for more dangerous pursuits while still allowing the capture of car thieves, drug dealers and joyriding kids?
You already have a well thought out pursuit policy, implemented after the unnecessary deaths of Milwaukee citizens several years ago.
I once again ask that you remember the tens of thousands of innocent citizens and police officers unnecessarily injured and killed during dangerous police chases as you make changes to Milwaukee’s pursuit policies.
adminStatement for the Milwaukee Fire & Police Commission
By the St. Louis Post Dispatch Editorial Board Posted on May 11, 2017
A 9-year-old boy died Friday from injuries in a high-speed police chase that ended when the fleeing vehicle crashed into his family’s car near St. Louis Lambert International Airport. The mother of one of three men killed in a police chase in 2014 filed a federal lawsuit last week accusing officers and troopers with the Missouri Highway Patrol and city of Pevely of conducting a reckless chase. These are two examples among many that highlight the need for a regionwide pursuit policy that emphasizes restricting such chases.
Clear minds rarely prevail when vehicles are racing down highways at high speeds with motorists and pedestrians scrambling to get out of the way. Officers and the public are put at risk by chases that end too often with injured bystanders or passengers.
There are alternatives. Police sometimes throw down spike strips to impede fleeing vehicles, which is a good use of limited technology. They could also use a newer technology that enables them to shoot GPS devices that attach to fleeing vehicles. Helicopter pursuits also remain a viable, lower-risk option.
St. Louis city and county police have limited pursuit rules and do not chase traffic violators, but some neighboring jurisdictions do. In the situation involving the child who died Friday, a Normandy officer was chasing a stolen SUV whose driver had committed a moving violation on Interstate 70.
A 16-year-old was driving the SUV with two 15-year-old passengers. They sustained minor injuries and were taken into custody. Lambert airport is about 5 miles from Normandy, which means the officer crossed jurisdictions in pursuit.
Normandy police said shortly after the April 25 accident that they were investigating to see whether the chase met department policies. Normandy police said Wednesday they were still investigating. It remains unclear when police discovered that the SUV was stolen or had been carjacked — two factors that might have helped justify a pursuit.
Police owe the public answers when a high-speed chase ends in tragedy. The child’s 5-year-old brother and mother, 30, were also critically injured in the crash, which snarled airport traffic for hours.
The woman who sued over her son’s death in Jefferson County said in the lawsuit that her son called her during the chase and begged for help, saying the driver would not let passengers out. The call came too late and her son died while on the phone with her. The pursuit originated when police stopped the driver for speeding and he fled.
Regional authorities need to set strict parameters for police pursuits of fleeing vehicles and when chases are permissible outside their jurisdictions. Nobody wants teens joyriding in stolen vehicles or armed criminals circulating on the roads, but the pursuit must be worth the risk and danger. Otherwise, wait to catch them another time.
Here’s an article published the day of Paul Farris’ death. So tell me, exactly what’s changed in 2016?
Police chases not worth risk of tragedy May 31, 2007
by Margery Eagan Boston Globe Columnist
“Here’s yet another question: would you prefer someone driving through Boston erratically at 40 mph, or chased by police, at 70 or 80 mph?”
Explain this, please: Because about 100 children a year are abducted and killed by strangers, we have totally revamped American childhood. Good parents won’t even let children in the back yard alone. Yet at least that many innocent Americans, including children (some estimate two or three times as many) are killed every year in police chases. And every time I’ve written a column asking if these chases are worth it, the response is the same. Surely I am insane. Really?
Two innocent bystanders killed; one permanently injured The latest police chase tragedy came early Sunday morning when Javier Morales, 29, refused to stop for a state trooper in Everett. Morales made an illegal left turn off Route 16. He had no license and feared jail time for a previous no-license arrest. Perhaps if he faced greater jail time for refusing to stop for police a penalty many have proposed to reduce these chases Morales, weighing his options, would have made a different choice. To stop. As it was, Trooper Joseph Kalil chased Morales stolen SUV from Everett to Somerville’s Davis Square, where Morales plowed into a cab driven by Walid Chahine, 45, a husband and father. In the backseat were musician Paul Farris, 23, and his girlfriend Katelyn Hoyt. Hoyt and Chahine [Walid Chahine died at the hospital.] are at Mass. General, critically injured. Farris is dead. The fourth victim: Trooper Kalil, who must live with what happened for the rest of his days. So why is it that state police here, and in many other states, chase traffic violators at all? Boston police don’t. Neither do police in many other big cities, in part because of the risk of multi million-dollar lawsuits. Boston’s pursuit standards are higher than those followed by state police: Boston is supposed to chase only violent or dangerous suspects or those driving erratically, possibly because of drugs or alcohol. Here’s yet another question: would you prefer someone driving through Boston erratically at 40 mph, or chased by police, at 70 or 80 mph? One more question: Why do we assume that chasing even dangerous criminals is always worth the risk of maiming or killing a pedestrian or family in a minivan?
Myth vs. Fact The myth, by the way, is that police typically or even regularly chase the dangerous, that there’s a dead body in the trunk, says Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina, who has studied police pursuits since 1983. The fact is, between 75 and 80 percent of chases occur after moving violations, says Alpert. They’re mostly young kids who’ve made stupid decisions. The more powerful tool for police? Turn off the lights and siren and it’s more likely the suspect will slow down. I guess the idea of letting the bad guy get away seems un-American. Perhaps, too, the car chase is too rooted in American legend, from The French Connection to O.J. to whatever live police pursuit Fox and MSNBC can find and broadcast. And perhaps politicians don’t want to buck police. And then there’s adrenaline: If you’ve heard a chase on a police radio, you know want I’m talking about. Yesterday Pearl Allen, a retired music and Afro-American studies teacher at John D. O’Bryant School, said what many say who lose family to police pursuits. That if police hadn’t chased, her grandson would still be alive. Quentin Osbourne, once a standout for the Boston Raiders Pop Warner team, was 15 when he was ejected from a Hyundai Elantra he and six friends had piled into. The 16-year-old unlicensed driver ran a stop sign. Police chased. He drove into a brick wall. They were just kids, his grandmother said. (The police) put on the flashing blue light. I think the driver got scared and sped away, and they just kept chasing until they crashed.
It is a simple and horrible fact that #PoliceChases affect families across the US every single day. The following note is from a dear friend who lost her sister. We have included the full article by Charlotte Observer reporter Bruce Henderson.
I thought you might be interested in an article published yesterday in the Charlotte Observer. This upcoming week is celebrated as “Sunshine Week” in newspapers across the country. The Observer thought our family’s story would make a good anecdote for an article about the importance of granting the public access to government records–what in Florida was broadened some years ago through a “Sunshine” law.
After the deputy editor spoke with me, he decided that they could make more than an anecdote out of our story. He put another reporter onto it, who asked lots of detailed questions. The resulting article has a few errors and gaps, but over all it’s the best thing ever written about our family’s experience with an ill-considered police pursuit and our subsequent quest to learn what went wrong.
For the pursuit issue, keeping careful records and then making those available to the public is of critical importance, as we’ve found. I think we’ve also found that non-compliance with policy on pursuits is associated with other lapses of professionalism on the part of law enforcement. And we’ve seen that these problems are often most pronounced in small town departments. This article illustrates all of that.
Ellen Deitz Tucker
MARCH 10, 2017 9:18 AM
She questioned police version of sister’s death – then fought for the truth
Donna Deitz, 60, and her lifelong friend Kevin Loftin, 56, a former Belmont mayor, were returning from an Ash Wednesday service one night in February 2012. An Acura SUV driven by Lester Saunders Norman Jr., with police in pursuit, smashed into Loftin’s Audi, killing them both. Courtesy of Ellen Deitz Tucker
After learning that her sister had died in her hometown of Belmont, Ellen Deitz Tucker wasted little thought on the driver whose careening car had killed her.
She wondered instead about the local police. Why would officers risk innocent lives by chasing someone at 80 mph?
Donna Deitz, 60, and her lifelong friend Kevin Loftin, 56, a former Belmont mayor, were returning from an Ash Wednesday service that night in February 2012. An Acura SUV driven by Lester Saunders Norman Jr., with police in pursuit, smashed into Loftin’s Audi.
Then-police Chief Charlie Franklin told reporters that officers pursued Norman because his vehicle had nearly struck two officers when he pulled away from a DWI checkpoint. Norman was on federal probation and didn’t have a driver’s license.
Franklin said that Norman, after being captured while running from the crash, had said he didn’t want to return to prison.
Tucker, a writer and editor for an educational nonprofit who lives in California, wasn’t satisfied.
Her search for answers led her to file a lawsuit to win access to a report of an outside investigation of the Belmont Police Department. It also made her story part of North Carolina’s annual Sunshine Week, which begins March 12 and is devoted to access to public records.
“It just seemed to me,” Tucker said, “that the public deserved to know what they paid for.”
Tucker and her brother, Dan Deitz, questioned what they viewed as the police department’s “highly improbable” account of the pursuit that started on Interstate 85, including statements that Norman had approached a checkpoint at high speed, was drunk and drove toward officers.
Norman’s car initially didn’t move fast as he pulled away from police because it had a bad transmission, Tucker said she learned through a private investigator the family hired.
After exiting the highway, though, the SUV gained speed as it traveled downhill on Park Street toward a busy intersection of Wilkinson Boulevard. Investigators estimated Norman’s speed at 80 mph.
Kevin Loftin, driving west on Wilkinson, was known to be a slow driver. Classical music played on the radio. His car windows were up on a dark, misty night.
The stoplight turned green for Loftin just after it turned red for Norman. Two police cars were a few lengths behind him.
Norman didn’t stop and crashed into Loftin’s car. Loftin and Deitz died at the scene.
Norman was sentenced, after pleading guilty to second-degree murder, to up to 32 years in prison in late 2012. At his sentencing, he had looked at Tucker but said nothing. A year later, he wrote Donna Deitz’ family a neatly penciled letter of apology.
He hadn’t said anything in court, Norman wrote, because “Normally when a person apologizes to the court and the victims, most of the time it’s because they want mercy from the court. Although not all people are like that but the majority are and I don’t want to be looked upon as such.
“I made the absolute worst decision of my life driving away from that license check and it caused two people their lives. I take sole responsibility for that, and it’s a burden that weighs heavily on my heart everyday.”
The crash weighed heavily on Belmont, too. Local connections run long and deep in the town of 10,000 that was founded on cotton mills.
Loftin was a native son who led a controversial $1 million revitalization of downtown Belmont that ultimately cost him his seat as mayor. He took part in numerous church and civic activities.
Donna Deitz, Tucker’s older sister and their parents’ caregiver, was “an upbeat person who brought a lot of joy into the family.”
Their mother is still living at home. But after Donna’s death, Tucker said, her dad, Clyde Deitz, a former 19-year Belmont City Council member and Loftin’s mentor, went silent and died broken-hearted six months later at 99.
A year after the crash, the police department revised its policy on pursuits and check points. Tucker saw little improvement in the new policy, which deleted a “continuing physical threat” as grounds for a chase and replaced it with an explicit list of situations in which one would be allowed.
Franklin, then Belmont’s police chief, said his officers did nothing wrong.
“It’s a sad situation,” Franklin told Charlotte’s WCNC, “but Mr. Norman is responsible, not the Belmont Police Department.”
It was difficult to get facts about the crash from police, Tucker said, and she found information in press reports to be inconsistent.
Then, a retired police officer working as a private investigator in Charlotte who had seen an account of the crash on television knocked on the family’s door. The investigator, John Faber, also questioned the police actions. The family hired him to dig for answers.
Faber obtained the official police records of the chase and crash, including witness statements, lab reports and videos of police questioning Norman and a passenger in his vehicle. The family says the videos and witness accounts contradicted those of police.
“How does what (Norman) did differ from not caring who you kill to try to catch someone?” Tucker said.
Tucker and her brother sued the city in March 2013, charging that negligence allowed the pursuit to occur. They later dropped the suit.
When she read that Belmont had launched an outside investigation of its police department in late 2014, Tucker sent a 50-page summary of her investigator’s findings to the city manager and council members.
The next summer, she and her brother filed a public records request with the city for the investigation report. The city quickly denied the request, citing pledges of confidentiality given to police personnel that made it unable to release the report.
In August 2015 the siblings sued again with support from the Civitas Institute, which promotes transparency in government. The lawsuit alleged the city broke the state’s open records law by refusing to release the report.
Citizens across the state press for government records to be made public “in a way that would make the most dogged reporter proud,” said Jonathan Jones, director of the Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition at Elon University.
“What separates (Tucker) is that most folks are turned away by the sheer cost of pursuing this, and she found a way to make it work.”
Last August, under a judge’s order, the city released 22 of the report’s 160 pages, some heavily redacted. The internal investigation by U.S. ISS Agency, a private firm, focused on a “massive” number of internal complaints about the department’s management.
The investigation “found the (Belmont Police Department) to be a fractured organization with a corrosive work environment in which employees have been drawn into two camps, which are constantly in opposition based on personal loyalties,” the report said. “Policies and procedural guidelines are routinely ignored or circumvented.”
Investigators found a missing book, dated 2002, that contained highly sensitive criminal case files, drug purchases and confidential informants’ information. They found that most department employees hadn’t gotten raises in several years. The released pages don’t address the Deitz crash.
The report was presented in February 2015. The city fired police Chief Franklin in April 2015 for unsatisfactory job performance and detrimental personal conduct.
“I think I got an overview of the department culture in which something like this could happen,” Tucker said after winning partial access to the report.
Tucker says she has ambivalent feelings about Belmont.
Many people have shown kindnesses, she said. Neighbors fixed things at her parents’ house, and church members visited. But it was also hard to get residents to stand by her as she tried to get answers.
“So I have to say for all this to work, citizens need to care about their neighbor, they need to stick their neck out, sign a petition, attend a meeting, they need to read their newspaper,” Tucker said. “It takes work, not just on the part of journalists but on the public.”
Staff writer Doug Miller contributed.
Public records in North Carolina
Jonathan Jones, director of the Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition at Elon University, said the Belmont case illustrates how hard it can be to pry open public records. Filing a lawsuit, as Tucker did, is often the only option in North Carolina.
“It comes back to what I see as a fundamental breakdown in how transparency laws in North Carolina are working,” Jones said.
“It essentially becomes a dare to take us to court, and if you get taken to court (and lose) there’s not a lot of negative consequences…. Because there’s that court requirement, there’s no real incentive for a government agency to be transparent in the way they should, and in fact no real harm in failing to be transparent.”
Records are often withheld out of misunderstanding of the law or fear of repercussions, Jones said. Belmont’s city council, he said, had the authority to release all or part of the investigation report on its police department. It didn’t.
adminShe questioned police version of sister’s death – then fought for the truth
Local policies see sharp reduction in dangerous police pursuits
An average of five New Yorkers die each year, a USA Today Network analysis of federal crash data finds. Wochit
A police chase prompted by an alleged shoplifting incident at a CVS store in the town of Farmington last summer ended with a violent crash which took the lives of two passengers.
Each year, hundreds of people across the U.S. are killed in high-speed police chases, but this fatal crash on I-490 last year was the first pursuit in Monroe County in nearly a decade to end with a fatality.
Local police officials say that their policies, which define strict criteria under which pursuits can be conducted, have significantly reduced the number of dangerous pursuits.
But that progress has not been matched in other parts of New York.
An analysis of federal crash data by the USA Today Network found:
From 1995 to 2015, there were 100 deaths tied to high-speed police chases statewide. Between two and nine people died each year, with a median of five deaths annually.
Those 100 chase-related deaths occurred in 89 separate crashes in 38 of New York’s 62 counties. Two-thirds were outside New York City and Long Island.
One-fifth of those killed were pedestrians or drivers who were not involved in the chase. Two law enforcement officers were killed, and the remaining 78 were people in vehicles being pursued.
The data does not reflect the human impact of police chases, and they come at a time of both increasing scrutiny of pursuits and growing danger on the roadways.
The available federal data also does not include police pursuits that ended in nonfatal crashes, or where people involved later died from related injuries.
Death and injury
Sometimes the crashes result in death or injury to law enforcement officers. More often, the victims are people whose only connection to the chase was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The morning of Nov. 2, Adam M. VanCise, 35, of Palmyra, Wayne County, led Chemung County deputies and New York State Police officers on an hour-long chase. It began on foot in Horseheads, Chemung County, and ended in the crash on Route 352 in Corning.
Deputies said they had been seeking VanCise since he eluded them after allegedly taking items from the Walmart in Horseheads. According to reports, deputies say they picked up the trail after seeing VanCise steal a car from a woman in a nearby parking lot, then drive off.
Deputies are automatically authorized to pursue suspects if they feel the chase is necessary and if cause can be established, Chemung County Undersheriff William Schrom told the Elmira Star-Gazette at the time.
According to police reports, officers fell back when VanCise began driving west in the eastbound lanes of County Route 352, around Goff Road, “at a high rate of speed,” after an eight-mile pursuit.
Deputies then came upon the scene — VanCise’s vehicle struck another head-on. He died at the scene.
Occupants of the other vehicle, Dianne B. Box and Maureen A. LoPresto, both of Corning, were injured. They have filed separate notices of claim, signaling a possible lawsuit and claiming they sustained “permanent effects and permanent disfigurement” from a “recklessly” and “negligently” conducted police pursuit, stargazette.com reported.
Pursuit under scrutiny
Those who watch the numbers have been urging law enforcement agencies for years to re-evaluate their policies on pursuits. As far back as 1990, a National Institute of Justice report suggested known offenders who flee police be apprehended off the highways — in their homes or places they frequent.
The institute functions as the research arm of the federal Department of Justice, and is tasked with providing research to inform state and local law enforcement policy.
“Whether or not to engage in a high-speed chase then becomes a question of weighing the danger to the public of the chase itself against the danger to the public of the offender remaining at large,” the report stated. “For anyone other than a violent felon, the balance weighs against the high-speed chase.”
Some urban police departments, including Milwaukee and Orlando, allow vehicle chases only for known or suspected violent felons, according to a 2015 investigation by USA Today. Yet many other departments leave the judgment up to their officers.
Officials with the Rochester Police Department say that removing that decision from officers involved in the pursuit has played a critical role in reducing crashes. Supervisors must be notified immediately when a pursuit begins, and they will constantly monitor the course of the pursuit to evaluate whether it should be terminated.
“The officer involved in a pursuit is already multi-tasking,” said Deputy Chief Scott Peters. “He’s activating his lights, talking on the radio, observing what’s happening. He may not be looking at the big picture. Having a boss responsible for making the decision about whether to pursue gives us a degree of separation.”
The RPD policy on pursuits is 18 pages long, describing in detail the pursuit tactics that can be employed and the criteria under which pursuits are allowed. The factors considered include the seriousness of the incident, road conditions, speed, and knowledge of the offender’s identity.
Peters says that cameras, GPS locators, and other technology often helps them to identify the driver and allow them to make an arrest at a later time.
“The hardest thing for a police officer to do is turn those flashing lights off,” Peters said. “That’s our job, they pay us to go catch criminals.”
But there is also a recognition that these pursuits put people’s lives at risk, especially when they take place in dense urban areas.
“Going down a city street at 70 mph is always a dangerous and potentially deadly situation” Peters said.
The USA Today investigation also found police chases consistently led to about one death a day nationwide between 1990 and 2013. And last year, the newspaper found black people are killed in police chases at a rate nearly three times higher than any other demographic.
Both those reports and the data on New York state fatalities draw on the same source, a database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which tracks hundreds of data points for every fatal vehicle crash in the nation each year. Police pursuit is one of those.
The data, though, has holes and oversights. USA Today found hundreds of cases in at least three states in which police reports indicate a high-speed chase took place but the incident does not appear in the database.
Moreover, a police pursuit ending in a nonfatal crash in New York would not appear in the database. No agency tracks those figures.
So it is possible some deaths in New York were not listed, and virtually certain police pursuits occurred in which people were injured but not immediately killed.
Two men were injured in a one-car crash in Irondequoit in January. That vehicle, which had been stolen, was being pursued by State Police after it nearly crashed head-on into a Rochester Police Department patrol car on Avenue A in the city.
No law enforcement department in New York or the nation forbids pursuit in any situation. More common are “restrictive” policies like in Dallas, Orlando and Los Angeles, discouraging pursuit for minor infractions or training of officers to de-escalate after a certain time or distance.
Even when officers follow department policies designed to de-escalate a pursuit, crashes can occur.
Chase started as alleged shoplifting
That was the case in the fatal crash on I-490 last summer. The pursuit began after an alleged shoplifting incident at a CVS store in Farmington, Ontario County.
Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero told the Democrat and Chronicle that the driver of the suspect vehicle sped up, reaching a “point where the deputy — following departmental protocols — backed off on the chase and the vehicle left his sight.”
Police say they believe the westbound Volkswagen Jetta hit a median and veered into a grassy ditch near I-490’s Exit 25, where it overturned and came to rest. The driver, Noah Marinelli, 33, of Canandaigua, died at the scene, and the passenger, Danielle Golding, 31, of Utica, died a week later.
According to FBI figures, motor vehicle crashes are the major cause of line-of-duty death for law enforcement officers, eclipsing violent death in the mid-2000s. They accounted for nearly 60 percent of deaths to police in 2015, the last year for which figures were available.
In 2015, the FBI’s annual Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted report found 45 were killed accidentally nationwide, compared with 41 during law enforcement activities like making arrests or executing high-risk entries.
The accidental death category includes crashes of all types, both during high-speed chases and ordinary road patrol. Twenty-nine of those deaths came in automobile accidents, and another four in motorcycle crashes.
Since 2006, 392 of the 577 deaths to law enforcement officers — 68 percent — came through auto and other accidents.
One of those was New York State Trooper Craig J. Todeschini, who was killed April 23, 2006, during a pursuit of a motorcycle on Route 91 in Pompey Hill, Onondaga County, that exceeded 100 mph. After about two miles, his Chevy Tahoe patrol vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree, according to state police.
The driver of the motorcycle, James Carncross, was convicted in 2006 of aggravated criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving. He was paroled in 2016.
In response, New York passed the Trooper Craig Todeschini Bill, which created the crime of fleeing from a police officer in a motor vehicle.
Highways in general are getting more dangerous. Earlier this month, the National Safety Council, a nonprofit whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths in homes, communities and on the roads, estimated motor vehicle deaths in 2016 rose 6 percent over the previous year. The total topped 40,000 for the first time since 2007, and was up 14 percent since 2014.
“Pursuits are not fun. They put everybody in danger, including the officer,” Brockport Chief Daniel Varrenti told the Democrat and Chronicle last year. “When we can avoid them we will.”
Between 1995 and 2015, there were 100 deaths tied to high-speed police chases statewide. Between two and nine people died each year, with a median of five deaths annually.
Those 100 chase-related deaths occurred in 38 of New York’s 62 counties. Two-thirds of the total took place outside New York City and Long Island.
One-fifth of those killed were pedestrians or other drivers. Two law enforcement officers were killed, and the remaining 78 were people in vehicles being chased.
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Pursuit policy modifications [consistency between departments; violent felony-only pursuits; beginning with Federal agencies]
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis man has been sentenced to seven years in prison for fatally striking a bicyclist with his car while fleeing from a traffic stop.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that 23-year-old Glenn Parchmon was sentenced Friday.
Parchmon had pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, resisting arrest and other charges.
Police say that last March, Parchmon fled a traffic stop, ran a stop sign, crashed into a car and swerved on a sidewalk where he struck bicyclist Willie Graham. Graham went into a coma and died several days later.
Police say four children, ages 1 to 4, were in Parchmon’s vehicle at the time.
adminWe Need Much Stricter Sentencing Guidelines for Police Chases
by JACOB TIERNEY Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, 12:16 a.m.
The small Fawn Township Police Department doesn’t get involved in many high-speed car chases, but Chief Tim Mayberry remembers chasing down a suspect last year who was wanted in a break-in.
“It went to speeds of over 100 mph,” he said. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t do it. It’s not worth the risk.”
There’s almost always a better, safer way to apprehend a suspect than a high-speed car chase, he said.
Mayberry plans to update the township’s pursuit policy within the next month or two, joining several local police departments taking a close look at how they handle car chases.
The issue was highlighted in November, when a man fleeing from police in North Versailles after he was pulled over for making an illegal left turn sped off and crashed into a car, killing two adults and a 2-year-old girl.
Police were considering how best to handle pursuits before the crash. The Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association regularly updates its suggested policies and revised its model pursuit policy in early 2016.
“A lot of chiefs put a lot of time and efforts into working on best practices,” said association President and Castle Shannon police Chief Kenneth Truver.
The association does not implement policies but instead drafts models and encourages local departments to adopt them.
By state law, each police department must have a policy dictating when officers should “initiate, continue and terminate a motor vehicle pursuit.”
The East Deer commissioners will discuss updating their police department’s pursuit policy at a meeting Thursday, possibly voting to adopt new guidelines based on the chiefs’ association model.
“There (are) a lot of aspects about it that are better,” commissioners Chairman Tony Taliani said. “It basically limits and reduces the situations where you would be in pursuits. Not many good things come from pursuits.”
He does not remember when East Deer’s policy was last updated but said the new model adds many new safeguards.
It lists 13 criteria that must be met for officers to start a chase and six reasons why a chase should be stopped.
It states no more than two police vehicles can be involved in a chase, and officers cannot chase suspects against the flow of traffic.
Mayberry said Fawn’s current policy largely leaves the decision of when to begin and end a chase up to officers.
“Ours is pretty simple, but it’s not as stringent as the other ones that are out there,” he said, adding that making the policy stricter could make the public safer.
Truver said he didn’t want to discuss the specifics of the association’s model policy, because publicizing the details of how officers handle police chases could allow criminals to exploit that knowledge.
“If you have bad intentions and you know what the policy is of an individual agency, you can take action to subvert the intent of that policy,” he said.
State law says departments should keep the details of their pursuit policies confidential.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala has long called on departments to update and standardize their policies.
Police should initiate a chase only in case of a violent felony or to stop an immediate threat to public safety, according to Zappala.
The North Versailles police pursuit policy says pursuits should be limited to suspects wanted for safety-threatening felonies. The driver involved in the fatal pursuit was wanted on a probation violation.
The chiefs’ association revisited its policy after the crash but decided the recently updated version was stringent enough.
Wisconsin resident Jonathan Farris started the advocacy group Pursuit for Change after his son, Paul, died in a car crash in Massachusetts in 2007. Paul was in a taxi, and the driver who hit his vehicle was being chased by police.
Pursuit for Change calls for stricter and more consistent policies nationwide, as well as better record-keeping about crashes related to police chases.
“It seems like there are way too many pursuits that could be resolved in a different way,” he said. “They can get that person another time.”
Police departments are not required to submit reports on chase-related fatalities to any government agency.
The most comprehensive recent analysis was a 2015 report by USA Today, which found 11,500 deaths in high-speed chases from 1979 to 2013, including 374 in Pennsylvania.
Henry Wiehagen, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 91, which represents officers in Allegheny County, said stricter rules are a good thing. A chase can escalate a bad situation, he said.
“You’re better off letting the individual go,” said Wiehagen, former chief of the North Braddock Police Department. “When you put that red light and that siren on, it might make him go faster.”
NORTH VERSAILLES, Pa. —Four days after a police chase ended with three people killed in North Versailles, investigators continue to piece together what led up to the deadly crash.
Surveillance video from a business along Route 30 obtained by Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 shows the suspect’s white car speeding down the road toward Route 48 just minutes before the crash. A North Versailles police cruiser can be seen trailing the car by only a matter of seconds.
Detectives from the Allegheny County Police Department have been working to obtain that video while investigating the incident.
Many have also questioned whether officers should have been pursuing the car. The suspect, Demetrius Coleman, was wanted for felony probation violation related to a drug charge, but not for a violent crime.
North Versailles police have not revealed their policy for initiating or continuing a chase. An officer reached at the department Monday said the chief would not be in until Wednesday.
East McKeesport police chief Russell Stroschein released his agency’s policy early Monday. It limits pursuits to “those situations which involve the attempted apprehension of persons wanted for the commission of felonious acts that threaten, have threatened, or will threaten the health, life, or safety, of a person.”
Jonathan Farris, founder of Pursuit for Change, a group that advocates for changes to police chase policies, said from the information he has seen, he doesn’t believe the North Versailles pursuit was justified.
“There was nothing going on at that point in time that made that person dangerous enough to instigate a pursuit which put other people in danger, and in fact ultimately killed three innocent citizens,” Farris said.
His group recommends that chases be reserved for violent offenders, and that police departments employ better technology to stop fleeing suspects without having to pursue them. Also, he believes police departments should better coordinate their policies to line up with each other.
“They need to have more consistency,” Farris said. “This is really important within a geographic area, because what often happens is there isn’t consistency.”
Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 called every North Versailles township commissioner Monday. No one would speak on camera about the crash or their police department’s policy, but some did say the issue would be a major topic at their next meeting.
The Allegheny County district attorney is also gathering information about the case, and could make a statement on it later this week.
adminInvestigators continue to piece deadly chase and crash together
by Jonathan Farris, Chief Advocate, Pursuit For Change
It’s a 2016 holiday weekend – Thanksgiving to be exact. And your kids and grandchild will be at your house very soon.
But now it’s an hour after they were supposed to arrive. You’ve called their cell phones, but the calls go straight to voicemail. I wonder where they could be?
For the families of David Lee Bianco and his fiancee Kaylie Meininger and their young daughter, they will scream and cry when they receive ‘the call’ from authorities, telling them their son, their daughter, and their granddaughter are all dead.
The pain is unimaginable. The heartache is unbearable. And the question “WHY?” will be asked over and over and over again.
I wish I could ease their pain, but I cannot. And for these families and their friends, Thanksgiving will forever be a time of sorrow and not celebration.
Over and over and over again this story plays out. Innocent people, simply going about their lives, are killed by someone who decides to flee from law enforcement.
And over and over and over again law enforcement chases. In the case of violent felonies, perhaps there are no other means to catch the perpetrator.
But in the case of non-violent felons, known criminals, or those committing misdemeanor violations such as speeding or an illegal u-turn, there are thousands of pursuits. Some statistics indicate more than 80 percent of police chases are for non-violent actions by the person running.
Are there other means for catching bad guys while not putting citizens at risk? The answer is a resounding YES!
We need more law enforcement agencies to tighten up their pursuit policies – generally limiting chases to all but violent felonies. We need for law enforcement to have significantly more driver training, because unlike weapons training, behind-the-wheel or in-simulator driving simply isn’t practiced enough. And we need law enforcement to begin to use more pursuit reduction technology, allowing them to apprehend criminals without engaging in pursuits that endanger innocent bystanders and the officers themselves. We simply must reduce the thousands and thousands of chases occurring annually.
You may not agree with me, and I get that. But if YOU were the family who received THAT CALL, I suspect your opinion would change.
BOSTON – There’s a new high tech device that could help cut back on dangerous police pursuits. It’s called StarChase and one local police department is the first in New England to equip their vehicles with it.
“Nov. 2 will be the 10th birthday of Paul’s we missed because he’s dead. And it really doesn’t change much. You learn to manage it,” Jonathan Farris says.
The pain of losing his son Paul is still as raw as it was the night he died in May 2007 when Paul was 23 years old. That night, Massachusetts State Police were chasing a suspect through Somerville after he made an illegal U-turn.
“If someone starts to take off we activate it at a certain point it arms it. It has a laser control on it. You aim you fire and it shoots a dart out. It attaches to the vehicle wherever you shot it. “ said Solomon.
StarChase is mounted in the grill of the police cruiser. After the dart attaches to the suspects’ vehicle, the officer can back off and track the suspect. Solomon tells us when police back off, the suspect usually will stop driving erratically.
He says any police agency can then log into their computer and track the vehicle, allowing them to coordinate with other agencies, and create perimeters miles ahead minimizing the need for an actual chase.
“This is just one more tool in our toolbox that hopefully in the right situation and the right time we deploy it, it could save someone’s life.” Solomon said
According to StarChase, the technology has resulted in an 80 percent apprehension rate, that’s compared to a 70 percent national average. The company also says the technology has resulted in no injuries or death.
Methuen Police gave FOX25 a demonstration on a blocked off road. Three times the GPS training dart stuck to the chase vehicle. Only once did the device fail to stick. Methuen police said that could be because of weather, proximity, and officer training.
Methuen Police Officers are now going through training on how to use the StarChase technology. Chief Solomon plans on debuting the system to other police departments on Friday for “New England Public Safety Day.”
I’m not a fan of surprises. Not in business and not in my personal life. But as a dad whose son was killed in 2007, my personal life continues to serve up an endless sea of surprises – often in the form of tears.
It doesn’t matter that Paul died nearly ten years ago. It doesn’t matter that we’ve learned to go about our lives without him. The emotion of suddenly losing a child simply never abates. That emotion may not be quite as close to the surface as immediately following the death, but it is always lurking nearby.
A few days ago, while cleaning around the house, I opened a cabinet and found a box of condolence cards. I wanted to read some of them, but I didn’t make it through the first one before another complete meltdown.
It sucks. It’s not fair. But there aren’t any options other than learning to deal with the tears that you can’t control.
Each day we read about many police chases. A huge number of those are to pursue stolen vehicles.
Chasing a stolen car or truck ALWAYS puts innocent bystanders at risk of injury or death. At Pursuit For Change we talk about that issue all the time. And as a result, we continue to push for stricter pursuit policies allowing chases for only violent-felony crimes and not for misdemeanors or property-related felonies.
Of course, nearly every time an innocent bystander is hurt or killed, that jurisdiction (city, county or state) can expect to be sued. Often the settlements, after years of litigation expenses, are in the millions of dollars. This is yet another reason to pursue only violent felons who are posing an immediate threat to the public prior to and throughout the chase.
However, very few in law enforcement and the media discuss the monetary and social implications of non-injury pursuits.
Much more often when law enforcement chases a stolen vehicle, the bad guy is apprehended after crashing that stolen car or truck. Well at least there are no “injuries” other than those of the thief, right?
Perhaps that’s not really the case.
Every police chase that results in a crash costs the innocent citizen. Yet this is hardly ever talked about. Think about this following scenario.
A thief steals Ms. Goodperson’s 2008 Chevrolet Impala one night. The next morning, when Ms. Goodperson heads out to work, she’s appalled to find that her car is gone! She calls the police and reports the theft.
Several hours later an officer spots her stolen vehicle, driving at the speed limit down a local street. The officer attempts to pull the vehicle over, but instead of stopping, the bad guy speeds away. The officer makes a decision to engage in a high-speed chase.
In this case, after a dangerous pursuit lasting ten minutes and speeding through intersection after intersection, the thief loses control of the car and crashes into a telephone pole. Luckily, no innocent bystanders are hurt.
Now, if Ms. Goodperson is lucky enough to have auto insurance (comprehensive coverage specifically), then she can report the theft to her insurance company and get a settlement for that theft.
In our example, this 2008 Chevrolet Impala has a retail market value in the $5,000 to $6,000 range. Assuming the vehicle is indeed totaled during this police chase, then Ms. Goodperson can (hopefully) just pay her deductible and the insurance company will be out several thousand dollars.
But what if Ms. Goodperson is more like so many fine, hard-working folks across the country. She struggles to make her family’s financial ends meet every month. So she is regularly forced to make difficult decisions where every single dollar is spent.
A few months back, Ms. Goodperson spoke with her insurance agent and decided to save some money and drop comprehensive insurance coverage on her eight year old car. This, too, is a very common scenario in the insurance world.
Because Ms. Goodperson no longer has comprehensive insurance coverage, she immediately becomes a different type of innocent citizen when her car is stolen and crashed during a police chase. Now all expenses related to the stolen car must be born by the owner.
What does that mean? Well, Ms. Goodperson is about to get a really bad deal.
She has no insurance to cover the replacement of or repairs for her car.
It is very unlikely that the thief has any financial assets, so even if Ms. Goodperson receives a legal judgment against him, she will never recover a nickel.
She will also have to pay for the replacement of any damaged or missing belongings that were in the stolen car (these may be covered by her renters or homeowners insurance).
Because her car was “recovered”, she will now need to pay for towing or transport to her home or to a repair shop. (Here is a real-life case where the owner is being forced pay to transport her stolen vehicle from Oklahoma to Minnesota. goo.gl/FWjeMz)
Law enforcement is typically not liable for any damages to a pursued vehicle.
Between the time Ms. Goodperson’s car is stolen until she is able to repair or replace it, she still needs to get to and from work. Those expenses must ultimately be paid for by the victim.
If she is unable to find alternative transportation, then there is a very real possibility that Ms. Goodperson could even lose her job.
The bottom line is that many stolen car police chases end up in crashes costing the victims an immense amount of time and untold aggravation. Plus, the victim and / or an insurance company, will be out thousands and thousands of dollars. Bad deal.
We know there are alternatives to chasing stolen vehicles, such as pursuit reduction technology. That seems like a much smarter investment for a city than having to settle a lawsuit from a pursuit gone bad or for adding truly unnecessary expenses to non-injured vehicle theft victims.
There are always losers and never winners for these types of pursuits.
The number of people killed in high-speed police chases surged in 2014 to its highest level since 2007 despite efforts by police departments to reduce the risks of people getting killed and injured, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
A total of 385 people died in motor-vehicle crashes in 2014 that occurred while police were chasing a vehicle, up 16% from the 333 people killed in 2013, the USA TODAY review of federal records shows.
“A huge percentage of these deaths are unnecessary,” said Jonathan Farris, former chairman of PursuitSAFETY, which advocates to restrict police chases and improve reporting of chase-related deaths and injuries. Farris’ son Paul, 23, was killed in 2007 near Boston by a motorist being chased for a traffic violation.
Approximately 73 of the people killed in 2014 were bystanders — mostly people in their own cars that were hit by a fleeing motorist — and 77 were passengers in the fleeing vehicles. Twelve of those killed were children age 14 or younger, including an infant who had not yet turned one. Five were police officers.
Thousands more people were injured in the chases, which usually begin for minor infractions such as traffic violations. Although the federal government does not count injuries in police chases, five states that do keep track reported that a combined total of 1,764 people were injured in 2014 in their states.
Those states — California, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — make up nearly 23% of the U.S. population, which suggests that more than 7,700 people may have been injured nationwide in police chases in 2014.
Records from those states also suggest that there were about 52,000 police chases in 2014.