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Sunday, March 20, 2005

California Legislators Seek to Reduce High-Speed Police Chases

Legislators in California, the nation's leader of high-speed car chases, are seeking to clean up the state's image by limiting police immunity for injuries and deaths that occur in the course of these chases.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2003, California's 7,171 high-speed pursuits caused 51 deaths, 18 of whom were innocent bystanders.  Law enforcement agencies intend to fight efforts to end police immunity, but Republican State Senator Sam Aanestadat, whose previous bill to limit police immunity died in the Senate Public Safety Committee, says the new bill is an effort to reach a compromise between the police perspective and the stringent perspective taken in the previously defeated bill.  Though the compromise legislation may not be what Aanesadat had in mind, he says the compromise is worthwhile to reduce the loss of innocent lives statewide.  Legislation used in LA County limiting police immunity has proven effective in reducing the number of police chases.  The Associated Press reports: "Los Angeles County adopted one of the nation's most restrictive pursuit policies in 1998, limiting chases to instances where there has been a felony crime committed, a misdemeanor crime involving a weapon, or suspected drunken drivers who are an obvious road hazard.  Before, deputies engaged in about 500 chases a year, a number that dropped by half since the policy was adopted, said Sgt. Wayne Bilowit, the department's legislative advocate.  The number increased in the last year with deputies now patrolling more jurisdictions, but the percentage of chases resulting in collisions has dropped to historic lows, and there have been no chase-related fatalities since 1998.  Moreover, the policy has changed the culture of the department's chase mentality, Bilowit said. Now, 40 percent of chases are halted even though they fall within department guidelines, and half those decisions are made by the pursuing deputy."  Despite these successes, Captain Scott Howland of the CA Highway Patrol advocates more stringent penalties for people who flee from the police instead of limited police immunity.  He seems to have a good point: in California, evading an officer and misusing a handicapped placard result in the same penalty; and misusing the placard requires a higher bail. More... [Mark Godsey]

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