Existing Pursuit Policy Supported by Police Chief

Chico's current policy gives wide discretion in deciding when to start a chase

By Larry Mitchell
Chico Enterprise-Record
Staff Writer

April 24, 2004

Chico—In about a month, Chico may have a revised police-pursuit policy, but it's not likely to differ much from the present guidelines, Police Chief Bruce Hagerty said in an interview Friday. The current policy, which gives officers wide discretion in deciding when to start a chase, is entirely appropriate, he said.

"It's very difficult to have cut-and-dried rules in law enforcement," he said. "Police work is not cut and dried. Every incident is different." In the interview, Hagerty reiterated his strong opposition to "Kristie's Law," a bill in the state Senate that would establish a restrictive statewide pursuit policy.

"I maintain that Kristie's Law will not (promote) public safety. It will increase public danger," he said. "It's just a horrible bill."

Hagerty said an incident in Chico late Wednesday night shows the effectiveness of Chico's current pursuit policy and also one of the major flaws in Kristie's Law.

In that incident, patrolling Chico officers spotted two men in a vehicle with no license plates and tried to pull them over. The driver of the vehicle sped off, and the officers pursued. Near Cohasset Road, the suspects hit 80 mph, and the sergeant who was supervising the pursuit called it off. He correctly judged that the risk of continuing the pursuit outweighed the benefit of possibly catching the suspects, Hagerty said, adding he commended the sergeant for his judgment.

Some time later that night, a California Highway Patrol officer saw the same suspects still driving around, tried to pull them over and, when they took off, began chasing them. Chico police joined in the chase, assisting the CHP officer.

This time the chase, in which speeds were relatively low, went all over Chico, Hagerty said. Finally, in the Chapman area, the suspect vehicle blew a tire, continued on the rim and finally crashed. Both suspects were arrested for allegedly stealing the car and for evading officers. The interesting thing is they had a copy of the Enterprise-Record with a story about Kristie's Law, which they waved at the officers, saying, "Hey, you guys can't chase us because of Kristie's Law," Hagerty said. That shows a huge problem with Kristie's Law, the chief said. If it does become law, "the bad guys are going to know" that in most cases they could speed away from officers and not be chased. Hagerty said the measure Senate Bill 1866, authored by Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley is also seriously flawed because it only allows for chasing suspects who represent an immediate peril to the public.

Police have no way to know that they aren't psychics, he said. If SB1866 becomes law, "the agencies will say, We're not going to pursue anymore."' Hagerty said police need the discretion to chase traffic violators, if conditions are right, because they might find "a dead body in the trunk." While finding bodies is rare, he said, it's not unusual for officers to find caches of drugs in a trunk or to catch a suspect wanted for robbery by several police agencies. Hagerty said his department is having all of its policies evaluated by a consultant, Jim Anthony from Los Angeles, who is a retired police chief. The pursuit policy is the first one Anthony is working on. Hagerty said he's seen some of the consultant's recommendations, which are being considered by a committee of Chico police officers. The revised policy will have some changes, but they will be minor ones, the chief said. The discretion officers now have to initiate pursuits will remain.

Published with permission: 
Chico Enterprise-Record