Independence Police Department policy allows an officer to initiate a vehicle pursuit for a number of offenses. But it may be time for the agency to revise its guidelines after a recent chase ended with four people dead.
The decision to pursue rests solely with an individual officer, according to the department’s policy. The scenarios that could prompt a police chase include crimes in progress, pursuit of traffic law violators or hot pursuit of suspects attempting to evade arrest.
The guidelines clearly state that the safety of the public must remain the highest priority.
Did police live up to that standard Friday when pursuit of a stolen Jeep ended with four fatalities?
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The driver, 24-year-old Victoria M. Brown, was charged with three counts of second-degree murder and one count of resisting a lawful stop. She may face an additional murder charge. Surely she will be held accountable for her actions. But what about police?
According to policy, officers are held accountable for reckless disregard for the safety of innocent people. An investigation into the incident should help answer the question of what punishment, if any, is appropriate.
A patrol car was clocked at 90 mph during the police chase. As a general rule, Independence officers must assess whether the seriousness of the violation justifies high speeds in excess of the posted limit.
A stolen vehicle hardly fits the criteria of a serious offense.
“In the unfortunate situations where a suspect chooses to use dangerous speed and erratic driving, our officers work to protect civilians and property in the area,” Independence City Manager Zach Walker said.
Officers are also advised to avoid pursuits before they occur. Principles of safety should never be compromised, the policy states. Other alternatives should have been considered.
“Human life must be placed above all other considerations,” the policy reads.
Police officers can’t predict the behavior of criminal suspects or the outcome of a pursuit. However, analyses continually show the inherent dangers of high-speed chases.
One of the victims in the crash, Aaron Daniel, died two days after his daughter was born, his father, McAllister Daniel, told The Star. McAllister Daniel called the pursuit a reckless decision. Auto theft isn’t worth four deaths, he said. He’s right.
The Independence Police Department should take a hard look at its policy and consider prohibiting pursuits of nonviolent offenders. Officers may technically have been abiding by department policy, but that doesn’t mean their decision in this case was the right one.