Thanks to the Rockford Register for this editorial. They make very good recommendations regarding more commonality of different departments’ pursuit policies. If lives are truly to be saved, then move to a policy allowing pursuits for only violent felonies. And support local law enforcement with additional driving training and the ability to try new pursuit reduction technologies.
Jon Farris – Chief Advocate, Pursuit For Change
Photo credit: Illinois State Police work the scene of a fatal accident Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, on South Springfield Avenue at Cunningham Road in Rockford. RRSTAR.COM FILE PHOTO
We’ve been critical of the Rockford Police Department’s “no chase” policy in the past. That’s why we are pleased that new Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea has changed the department’s policy to one that’s reasonable and gives officers the authority to decide when and when not to chase, based on several criteria.
In a meeting with the Editorial Board last week, O’Shea said Rockford police will chase violent offenders who are considered an imminent threat to others, based on traffic conditions, the time of day and the presence of pedestrians. If an officer is shot, the police definitely will chase if at all possible.
Meanwhile, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department continues its “pedal to the metal” policy. Last week, a sheriff’s deputy went on a high-speed chase, at one point reaching 100 mph, to pursue someone because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt and the deputy thought he saw the driver of the Chevy Tahoe reaching down under the seat to maybe hide something. This was at 10:24 p.m., in the darkness of night.
The deputy tried to pursue the car, but it sped away. The chase led from southeast Rockford to Illinois 251 to Perryville Road, where the Tahoe was traveling in the wrong lane. The deputy stopped chasing at that point.
This is the latest in a series of high-speed chases by the Sheriff’s Department, one of which ended in the death of Joy Lambert, 55, who was on her way to work at BMO Harris Bank. The deputy didn’t hit her, but the car he was chasing at a high speed on Springfield Avenue did.
Another sheriff’s chase ended up with the chased car wrecked on the sidewalk directly in front of Rockford City Hall.
None of those chases involved suspects who were immediate threats to public safety.
We’ve applauded Sheriff Gary Caruana for his efforts to beef up crime fighting throughout the county with an emphasis on high-crime areas. But we think the sheriff’s chase policy should be rethought, with greater emphasis put on the safety of innocent bystanders and the officers.
In fact, we urge the city and county to adopt a common policy and training regimen to ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows the same driving techniques. Throw in the Rockford Park District, Loves Park Police and rural village departments, too.
There is no question that police chases are inherently dangerous to the public.
A USA Today analysis published in 2015 found that “More than 5,000 bystanders and passengers have been killed in police car chases since 1979, and tens of thousands more were injured as officers repeatedly pursued drivers at high speeds and in hazardous conditions, often for minor infractions. … Police across the USA chase tens of thousands of people each year, often causing drivers to speed away recklessly.”
The International Association of Chiefs of Police, based in Alexandria, Virginia, has a model “vehicular pursuit policy,” updated in 2015, on its website, theiacp.org. We have read it, and it seems logical and reasonable to us civilians.
Here are the first three guidelines:
1. Pursuit is authorized only if the officer has a reasonable belief that the suspect, if allowed to flee, would present a danger to human life or cause serious injury. In general, pursuits for minor violations are discouraged.
2. The decision to initiate a pursuit must be based on the pursuing officer’s conclusion that the immediate danger to the officer and the public created by the pursuit is less than the immediate or potential danger to the public should the suspect remain at large.
3. Unless a greater hazard would result, a pursuit should not be undertaken if the subject(s) can be identified with enough certainty that they can be apprehended at a later time.
The entire policy is online in convenient PDF form. It reads plainly and is very similar to the guidelines O’Shea described.
We recommend all police agencies follow it, so they’re all on the same page when we’re all on the same roads.