Our families deserve safer police pursuits 

"I thought this could never happen to my family.  In an instant that was changed, and my innocent daughter, Kristie, was killed in our family van as we were driving to her high school basketball game." -- Candy Priano

Innocent people caught in the middle of pursuits realize the individuals who flee are lawbreakers and need to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, the actions of police should never increase the level of danger to the surrounding public or to the officers themselves. 

Any car — civilian or police — racing through our streets is equivalent to a 4,000 pound missile. Well-defined pursuit policies must be followed, and peace officers must always put public safety first, weighing the risk of the crime against the risk of the pursuit to the surrounding public. In California, officers must have a pursuit policy, but they are not held accountable when they fail to follow their own agency's pursuit policy.

If you think this could never happen to you, click here to find out what innocent victims were doing when they were killed or injured.  More and more we are learning that deaths and injuries are happening to innocent victims whether young or old, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican. Deadly pursuits now occur on the good side of town and the poor side of town.

Something to think about ...

If my daughter Kristie had not become an innocent victim of a police pursuit, would I care whether or not legislation for safer and smarter police pursuits was passed?  The answer, sadly, is "No."

As much as I hate to admit this fact, it is the truth. I would still be living my life the way I always did ... being a mother to my two teenagers and being Mark's wife. As parents, we were totally enjoying the teenage years with Steve and Kristie, filling our evenings with their sporting events, shopping for party clothes with Kristie, going to the movies, and traveling. Right now, I would be focusing on the upcoming high school graduation for both of my children. And while I am preparing for Steve's graduation day, one only needs to imagine how different and difficult this celebration will be for all of us left behind.

Our entire life has been altered: every holiday, every event, even trips to the grocery store are difficult. So when I talk about public apathy, I understand why it exists. I now live in a different world -- a world I struggle to accept. I have learned more about the dynamics police pursuit than I ever imagined. And what I learned is that I do not expect people who flee from the police to care about my safety, but I do expect the police to care about my safety and to follow their pursuit policy.

California is the only state that, by law, does not require its officers to follow their pursuit policy.  As more and more citizens become educated about pursuit because of a tragedy, they are saying, "Enough is enough."

Every day I recall my son's face when he told me, "Mom, the last thing I remember was Kristie laughing."  ...The last thing I remember was hearing both my children laughing. I smiled and looked out the van's window into the quiet darkness, thinking I was the luckiest mom in the world. Today, I am pursuing justice because when it comes to police pursuits, two wrongs do not make it right.  They make it deadly.  

- Candy Priano
May 10, 2004

Many Americans have no idea that innocent people are killed and maimed in the name of justice because of a mind set that says we must get the "bad guys" at any price. Crimes committed with cars are extremely common, and innocent victims and their families are often victimized again when the media, the public, and the courts call these crimes "car accidents."

Accidents are not premeditated. Pursuits occur when a person decides to flee and an officer decides to chase. People who flee are self-absorbed; they are not thinking about the safety of others. So the burden to protect innocent victims falls on the police.  It is not easy for them because they are trained to get the bad guys, and many officers say it's their job. But others say innocent victims do not deserve these death sentences, but too often the biggest losers are the innocent.

As I sat in the hospital, the people responsible for the pursuit were going home to their families: the police and the three girls in the fleeing car, even the driver, an unlicensed 15-year-old girl whose identity was known to the police prior to the pursuit and who had taken her mother's car without permission. She went home with her mother. We stayed at the hospital praying for a miracle.

Many law enforcement officials and law enforcement lobbyists argue that chasing and catching the "bad guys" keeps the general public safe. Not 100 percent true. Only 10 percent of all pursuits involve violent felons who put the public in imminent peril ... leaving 90 percent for traffic offenses, misdemeanors, and non-violent crimes that pose little or no threat to the public unless pushed into fleeing, says Dr. Geoffrey Alpert, chair, department of criminology and criminal justice, University of South Carolina.

The public may also believe this 90 percent is now behind bars. Not so. In many states, these suspects are back on the streets within hours or days. In the Kristie's case, the suspect went home with her mother.

Law enforcement lobbyists repeatedly say, "We need to pursue because the fleeing person will go on to commit horrific crimes." Our legislators need to ask law enforcement lobbyists for evidence of this outcome. The following information is real evidence that more and more innocent people are being killed and maimed in California pursuits: 

Is it not horrific for a community to lose four innocent people in a pursuit in a Stockton school zone? The last bell rang and high school students were heading home. As planned a mother picked up three high school girls -- her two daughters and a family friend. They never made it home; they never made it out of the school zone. They were hit by an 18-year-old classmate fleeing from police in a stolen truck.

Is it not horrific 
that a newlywed is now a widow and must bury her husband, a Fresno County Sheriff Deputy? An innocent bystander, this deputy was not involved in the pursuit. Nevertheless, he lost his life over a stolen truck. 

Is it not horrific that an innocent 15-year-old community volunteer in Chico is killed and then for her parents to learn that not one of the girls in the teen's car was taken into physical custody on the night of that pursuit? In fact, the driver was not taken into physical custody for 23 days ... and then to receive only one year in juvenile hall!

Is it not horrific to learn that two teenage girls were walking home from their San Diego school, only to be killed as a car fleeing from police rides the sidewalk?

Is it not horrific that a 4-year-old girl was killed instantly as she held her mother's hand while waiting for a bus?  And, in another pursuit in Ventura County an 18-year-old woman is killed as a CHP officer hits the car in which she is a passenger? She and her date were on their way home from a Senior Ball.  

Sadly, very sadly, this list could go on and on because California leads the nation in the number of innocent people killed in police pursuits. In many cases, the suspects being chased could have been caught in a different way ... a much safer way.