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Mother of woman killed in police chase says it’s time to reconsider pursuits

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VELDA CITY • About the time Keisha Redding printed her résumé at a state job assistance center, a police patrolman a mile south noticed a red Chevrolet Monte Carlo with no front license plate. After the driver made two turns without signaling, the officer switched on his lights and siren.

The red sedan with a white hood raced away, covering the distance in the time it took Redding, 23, headed for a job interview, to start walking across Natural Bridge and Lucas and Hunt roads. The crosswalk signal was in her favor, but the circumstances were not.

It was just before 11 a.m. Feb. 26 when the Monte Carlo struck Redding, killing her instantly, and kept going. It was found later, abandoned, in St. Louis. Four days after that, prosecutors filed involuntary manslaughter and leaving the scene charges againstMikal Hamilton, 24. It took police about a month more to find him.

Redding’s mother, Njoki Redding, has compassion for Hamilton and his family, recognizing that he did not intend to kill anyone. And she raises the question of whether low-stakes police pursuits make sense.

“He made a terrible mistake, and yes, there needs to be atonement for that mistake, but in that, we need to stop continuing to damage the community,” she said in a recent interview. “Responsibility needs to be taken for things that may have been incorrect as well as looked at in terms of how do we change things.

“Nothing will bring her back, but how can we grow? … If it was a chase, then why are we chasing? For a ticket?”

Police pursuits have been controversial, given the danger to the public, officers and suspects themselves.

They’re also a costly risk to taxpayers. In 2012, a jury awarded$3.1 million to the family of a woman, 34, killed by a speeding suspect fleeing from the now defunct Uplands Park police.

Redding’s death comes at a time when events in Ferguson have put intense attention upon reforming policing in north St. Louis County municipalities. Recent legislation by the St. Louis County Council requires departments to gain accreditation and suggests that they establish pursuit policies. But the measure doesn’t dictate what the policies should say.

National data show that more police officers die from vehicle crashes than gunshots.

History of pursuits

Many large departments, including St. Louis and St. Louis County, have conservative policies that restrict pursuits to cases in which a suspected felon is considered a greater threat to the public than a pursuit.

Velda City’s policy allows chases for misdemeanors as well as felonies. Chief Dan Paulino did not respond to requests for documentation of how traffic infractions fall within that policy.

Paulino has said that he believes his officer followed policy.

“Our policy … also goes into if you identify the person or get a (license) plate (number), go ahead and terminate the pursuit,” Paulino explained. “In this particular case, the officer was trying to get the plate.”

His policy also states that officers should terminate pursuits at the city limits unless the person “is wanted for a dangerous felony.” The intersection where Redding died is about two-tenths of a mile north of the boundary of the city of about 1,600 people.

It was one in a series of high-profile pursuits by the 16-member department in recent years.

St. Louis County police are investigating a pursuit of a suspected speeder traveling with three teenagers in January. It ended with Paulino firing at and striking the driver as he took cover in a house.

In 2011, a Velda City traffic stop for expired license plates in nearby Bel-Ridge ended with Paulino tussling with a female driver. The episode resulted in the firing of a county officer assigned to Jennings, for improperly firing his gun.

Paulino said the in-car camera video of the chase that killed Keisha Redding will “exonerate” his officer, but he said he will not release it because of the pending investigation. He said the patrol car was about six seconds behind Hamilton and slowed for the intersection. The chief said his officer did not realize Redding had been hit and continued the chase.

Witnesses told the Post-Dispatch that the officer also sped through the intersection.

“The video clearly shows that we were pursuing, but the officer was so far back,” Paulino said. “It doesn’t matter because a chase is a chase, and an innocent person lost their life.

“I hate to admit this, but it won’t be last.”

Redding’s mother doesn’t want to accept that.

“What did she leave for us to learn?” Njoki Redding asked. “We need to honor her life and not just wait for this to happen to the next person.”

Philosophies differ

Paulino criticized some other departments, such as St. Louis, for their limited pursuit rules.

“Why do you think that historically and statistically, the vast majority of pursuits that occur in St. Louis County all go toward the city?” Paulino asked. “Why do you think that happens? Because the city won’t chase them, and people know that.”

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said that’s not a bad thing if it prevents someone from being killed in the name of enforcing a traffic law. In January, Dotson sent reminders to area police departments that his officers will not join pursuits unless the circumstances fit the St. Louis policy. He also asks departments to fill out surveys on chases that enter the city.

“It’s my job to keep people in the city safe, and we already know pursuits are one of the most dangerous things police can do,” he said. “If people are chasing in the city for things we wouldn’t chase people for, we have a right to know.”

St. Louis County Deputy Police Chief Kenneth Cox said traffic violator pursuits like the one that killed Redding occur regularly among “several” municipal police departments. “We got away from that 20 years ago as supervisors realized there was a very good chance that it wasn’t going to end well, because most end in accidents,” Cox said.

Paulino said no policy can cover every decision officers must make.

“The bad guys leave, and we go after them and unfortunately bad things happen,” he said. “Everything is dictated by the actions of suspect.”

He added, “The focus needs to be brought to the suspect. All he had to do was stop. He was facing two tickets, if that. And just because there were violations that doesn’t mean (the suspect) was going to get” tickets.

A mother mourns

Meanwhile, at Njoki Redding’s home in University City, pictures on the fireplace mantel show the evolution of her daughter’s short life, including a graduation portrait from University City High School.

At a memorial service March 3, Njoki Redding told mourners, including Keisha’s three sisters, how Keisha was one of her “heart babies.”

“Some babies come from our wombs, and others from our hearts, and at 3 months old, Keisha became one of our heart babies,” the mother explained. She and her late husband adopted Keisha from the now-closed Faith House, where Njoki Redding once worked.

The child followed in her mother’s footsteps and had worked at several child care facilities. She also had a second job at a pizza restaurant.

Some of her co-workers went to her funeral, relating stories of how Keisha Redding gave them hope in small gestures, such as words of encouragement. She also was an organ donor, providing two people the gift of sight, said her godmother, Veronica Banks.

“I can hear my voice and her mother’s voice in these people,” Banks said. “It showed me she was listening even when we thought she wasn’t.”

The night before she was killed, Keisha Redding asked her godmother to email her a copy of her résumé so she could print it at the St. Louis County Workforce Development Center in time for an interview at 1 p.m. that Friday. Banks doesn’t know where the interview was supposed to be. It turned out not to matter.

A purse was among Keisha Redding’s belongings returned to her family by the medical examiner’s office.

The résumé was inside.

Reposted from www.stltoday.com by Christine Byers

 

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Why police departments are reconsidering high-speed pursuits

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A veteran Rockport police officer has come under scrutiny after a high-speed chase he led in Union last December ended with a car crash that left two teenagers dead.

See dashboard camera footage of deadly high-speed chase in Rockport

High-speed chases make for great adrenaline-soaked Hollywood action flicks; however, a growing body of research shows that the risks in real life to the officer, suspect and bystanders from pursuits often outweigh the potential benefit of a suspect’s immediate apprehension.

In response to this growing body of research and public concern about safety, a majority of police departments in Maine and nationally have adopted more restrictive policies governing when an officer may engage in a high-speed chase.

The risks

One of the more comprehensive studies of trends in high-speed chases is a 2008 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a Chicago-based law enforcement advocacy group. Researchers working with the association examined records of 7,737 pursuits between 2001 and 2007 that 56 police agencies submitted to an online database.

The authors found that a quarter of all high-speed chases ended when either the pursuing officer or suspect crashed. Suspects were most at risk for injury, accounting for 65 percent of all chase-related injuries. The next most at-risk group wasn’t police officers but bystanders, who accounted for 21 percent of chase-related injuries.

Agencies reported that 81 percent of chase-related injuries were minor, while 16 percent of injuries were serious. While fatalities occurred in only 3 percent of chase-related crashes, suspects and bystanders were most at risk for dying as a result of a high-speed chase.

Unlike their long-lasting Hollywood counterparts, most high-speed chases end within five minutes after an officer turns on the blue lights. So the pursuing officer has only a small window in which to resolve the chase safely.

Half of all crashes happen within the first two minutes of an officer engaging in a pursuit, and 83 percent happen within five minutes, according to a 1998 report by the National Institutes of Justice. The fatal chase in Union last December lasted about four minutes before the fleeing suspect crashed.

Some 72 percent of high-speed chases end for reasons beyond the control of the pursuing officers, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police report. By and large, the suspect has the most control over the situation, with pursuits ending because the suspect willingly stopped, crashed or successfully eluded the officer. Only 9 percent of pursuits ended because the officer discontinued the chase.

“When police agencies consider the costs and benefits of pursuits, they should also note this high level of uncertainty and lack of control that they often have during pursuit situations, which can certainly increase the ante for choosing to pursue,” the report reads.

Restrictive policies

Given the high risk of injury or death for an officer, suspect or bystander during a chase, a majority of departments nationwide since the 1990s have adopted more restrictive policies to limit pursuits. Half of those policies allow pursuits only for more serious offenses, such as violent felonies, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s model pursuit policy that serves as the baseline for Maine police departments, for instance, advises officers to pursue a suspect only when he or she poses an imminent threat to the public or if the suspect has committed a violent crime.

Minor offenses such as traffic violations are a no-go for high-speed chases under most circumstances.

“Under many conditions, abandoning a pursuit may be the most prudent decision a law enforcement officer can make,” the policy reads.

It advises further that an officer abandon a chase once the suspect has been identified and the officer is confident the suspect can safely apprehended later.

Even though policies discourage high-speed pursuits for minor violations, only 9 percent of pursuits reviewed as part of the International Association of Chiefs of Police report involved suspects who committed a violent felony.

Police in 42 percent of pursuits were chasing people suspected of violating a traffic law. In another 18 percent of cases, police chased people suspected of driving stolen cars, and another 15 percent of cases involved people suspected of driving while intoxicated.

Pursuit policies, including the state’s model policy, give officers flexibility to determine whether the risks posed by chasing a suspect outweigh the benefits of apprehension. Because officers can easily get wrapped up in the chase, a supervisor has the authority under Maine’s model policy to call off a pursuit at any time if the conditions become too hazardous.

In some cases, pursuing a suspect for a traffic violation may be the most prudent decision. But once an officer switches on the blue lights and gives chase, what began as a routine traffic stop becomes far more dangerous and unpredictable.

Counterintuitively, suspects concerned about the punishment from running from the police are five times more likely to take extreme risks to evade police, according to a 1998 study in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior, one of the only studies to examine high-speed chases from the suspect’s perspective. Of the suspects surveyed for the study, more than two-thirds who reported they were concerned for their safety during a chase were willing to take extreme risks to evade police. About half of suspects were willing to run at all costs.

“Rather than providing a deterrent effect, thinking about the punishment apparently acted as an incentive to try harder to escape,” the study reads.

In fact, the study suggests the safest way for an officer to end a high-speed chase is slow down and turn off the blue lights. Once the suspect sees the officer isn’t in pursuit, the suspect will resume driving at safe speeds within 2 miles, removing the risk to the public.

After all, a suspect can usually be safely arrested a little further down the road.

Reposted from www.bangordailynews.com by Christopher Burns

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USA TODAY: Police chase deaths are up in 2014

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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.

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USA TODAY: FBI vastly understates police deaths in chases

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation has drastically understated the number of police who have been killed in high-speed chases, counting only 24 deaths since 1980 despite records showing more than 370 officers killed in vehicle pursuits in that time span, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

At least 371 police officers were killed in chases from 1980 through 2014, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the U.S. Transportation Department database of fatal vehicle crashes and records of officer deaths maintained by two private police-memorial groups. That’s more than 15 times the number of chase-related deaths than the FBI counts, and makes chases the fifth-leading cause of police deaths, USA TODAY found.

The undercount is one of the most extreme examples of the federal government’s inability to accurately track violent deaths, and has led the FBI to minimize the danger of police chasing motorists, often at high speeds and in dangerous conditions, at a time when many police departments are restricting or considering restricting vehicle pursuits.

“The fact that these numbers have been undercounted further emphasizes the magnitude of the problem and the need for sensible restrictions on pursuit driving,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank on law-enforcement issues. “This is important for the safety of officers and citizens alike.”

The FBI did not dispute USA TODAY’s findings and said it started taking steps in 2010 to improve its count of officers killed in police pursuits, but has yet to publish new information.

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