Friday, April 28, 2006

Police Pursuits

Two car chases gained national attention yesterday, and even rated air time on Fox News. The first, in the Los Angeles area, ended when a murder suspect was killed by police. The second, in the Dallas, Texas, area, resulted in the arrest of the suspect with no injuries. Listening to the commentary on Fox News and some local channels, I was struck by the way people seem to perceive these pursuits (and not for the first time!).

I've been involved in dozens of pursuits personally, on both the freeway and city streets, and I can tell you firsthand how scary they are. My agency, and most others in California, provides pursuit training all the time, and any police officer involved in one must continually assess the need to apprehend the suspect against the need for the safety of officers and citizens. It's not always an easy choice to make, especially when things like ego, tunnel-vision and other officers become involved. But it must remain the decision of the officers involved, whether to proceed or not.

It's certainly a tragedy when a pursuit ends in a traffic collision, as some urban pursuits do. And inevitably, there is loss of life. And trust me, when that happens, no one feels worse than the cops. I've been there, and I know. But what is the alternative? To not chase? To simply let criminals run freely? If the authority to pursue criminals was taken from the police, anarchy would ensue. Anyone, from the lowest traffic violator to the most violent felon, would flee whenever they were approached, and the cops would have to sit and watch. Now which is the greatest danger to the community at large?

The only way to deter these things (and we'll never end them wholly), is to give stronger sentences to these Adam Henrys when we catch them. Right now, though fleeing in a vehicle can be a felony, the charge is often dropped in a plea bargain deal. The crook simply pleads out to the original charge, say stealing a car, and the evading charge goes away. This has to change! The D.A.'s office must prosecute these cases to the fullest extent, seeking the largest penalty. We must also pass new laws with tougher sentencing requirements, to help these prosecutors. And we have to work to educate the public, and gain their support.

But most importantly, we have to let our officers do their jobs.

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