Revised Pursuit Policies Work in Other Cities

While the Houston Police Department reviews specific pursuits that have ended in injury or death over the past few years, other departments across the state and nation say they're happy with revised chase policies that limit when officers can pursue suspects. Here's more from Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams.

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The HPD review comes after several high-profile pursuits that have ended in serious accidents and even the death of a young boy at the end of a chase in Southwest Houston a few weeks ago. HPD's policy allows officers to engage in pursuits, even for minor crimes, like misdemeanors and traffic violations. But other big city departments across the state and nation have found success with revised policies that limit pursuits to very specific circumstances.

"We're not afraid to terminate a pursuit. I mean, we do it all the time."

San Antonio Police Sgt. Gabe Trevino says his department revised its pursuit police about seven years ago and has since seen a dramatic drop in chases. Officers don't engage in pursuits for non-moving traffic violations or other minor crimes and supervisors make the final decision on whether a pursuit should continue.

"I think the policy we have in place gives so much structure into how a pursuit is going to continue and when it will continue, that I think it works out real well."

In Austin, a similar revised policy prevents officers from pursuing suspects for traffic violations or misdemeanors. Assistant Police Chief Cathy Ellison says authorities often weigh the severity of the crime before they engage in a sometimes risky pursuit.

"Is it worth getting someone injured, yourself injured, the person you're chasing injured? Is it worth it? So you take all those things into consideration and you say, a traffic violation versus the possibility of someone's life. We hire officers who I think are smart enough to make those decisions and back off."

The Orlando Police Department changed its pursuit policy two years ago and now only serious felony suspects are chased. Captain Paul Rooney helped draft the policy and says officers must refer to an 11 point checklist that often leads to the termination of pursuits.

"From the day you attend the academy, the biggest thing is catch the bad guy, catch the bad guy, catch the bad guy. Well now we're being a lot smarter. It's just not worth the lives and jeopardizing innocent people and the officer getting hurt, or the suspect, over something kind of, when it all comes down to, it was very minor."

Los Angeles, the capital of high speed pursuits, changed its policy a few years ago and has since seen a dramatic decrease in chases and injuries related to pursuits. But Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt says he believes the department's current policy works and that officers can't just let suspects drive away.

"Until we capture the individual, we don't know what crime they're involved in. It may start out as a traffic violation. It may start out as a misdemeanor, but by the time we capture, we've been in pursuits where we've found stolen property, we've found people tied up in the trunk, so you really don't know. But we're definitely looking at the issue of whether we should be pursuing on minor crimes. The big issue that I think we're facing here is Houstonians want us to catch crooks and put them in jail."

A police chase last Thursday ended in the death of a kidnapping suspect who was shot at the end of a pursuit in north Houston. That pursuit would have been continued in nearly all cases because of the kidnapping aspect and the fact that the suspect fired shots during the chase.

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