Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Letter to the Editor

Below is a letter I sent to the editor of the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Re: In police pursuits, speed really can kill

Simply stated, the Henrico County Police Department must rethink their vehicular pursuit policy. First, it is simply not worth the risk to the officers and the public to pursue anyone who has not been suspected of committing a violent crime. We can run a license plate instantly, put a helicopter in the air in many cases, and radio to other officers in the area; all forms of technology that proves just because the initial officer does not chase does not mean the suspect will get away.

Next, police should not be concerned in making their policy public. Contrary to their argument, there is not some segment of the population waiting to hear what the policy is, and then refusing to pull over when asked now that they know they will get away. People either listen to the police, or they don’t. A vast majority of the time, those who flee are simply dumb young criminals who don’t want to go to jail, not vicious murderers. Just as important, a transparent policy can allow the department and the public to accurately evaluate if a pursuit should have occurred, and whether it was properly handled.

Unfortunately, it appears as if the Henrico County Police Department is not learning from the unnecessary death of Apostle Taylor, and it is just a matter of time before another innocent person is killed because law enforcement compounds the poor decisions of a young criminal with their own.

John Phillips

Orlando, FL

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Policy Proposal for Florida Gubernatorial Candidate Alex Sink

Through a contact I was able to submit a policy proposal to current Florida CFO, and Democratic candidate for Governor, Alex Sink. Candy Priano of PursuitSAFETY joined me on this submission. I appreciate the opportunity and while it might not lead to dramatic policy change, it is certainly useful to catch the ear of an influential public figure. Below is the proposal.


When Sarah Phillips, a 20-year-old UCF student, was killed by a man fleeing police just outside of Orlando in 2001, and when 15-year-old Kristie Priano was killed on her way to a high school basketball game in 2002, they became two more innocent victims of police pursuits in the United States. Founded as a result of their deaths, and PursuitSAFETY have been advocating for safe and smart police pursuits.

In regards to police pursuits, there are several important facts to take into consideration:
  • Nationwide, 1 officer is killed every 6 weeks, and at least 3 innocent victims are killed each week.
  • Officer deaths from vehicle collisions outnumber firearm related officer deaths.
  • Pursuits result in up to 4,000 injuries to innocent Americans each year.
  • From 1998-2007, at least 176 Floridians were killed during police pursuits.
  • 88% of all chases are for non-violent crimes.
Given these statistics, we would like to make three recommendations to Alex Sink’s campaign for Governor of Florida.
  1. Across Florida, all law enforcement agencies should be required to implement a clearly defined pursuit policy that prevents the review of a pursuit from being a guessing game. This must state what crimes warrant a pursuit, and what the proper action should be. A clearly defined policy allows officers to make the correct decision, helps in training for these situations, and for proper scrutiny and review by the chain of command to be possible.
  2. In Florida, those who choose to flee police should be charged with at least a 2nd degree felony. Currently, those who flee are charged with a 3rd degree felony unless they show wanton disregard (2nd degree) or cause serious bodily harm (1st degree). (See Florida Statute 316.1935)
  3. Law enforcement agencies should only pursue those who are suspected of committing a violent crime. Given the risk to peace officers and the innocent public, it is only worth the risk to pursue when there is an imminent threat to human life. It is also important to take into consideration that just because officers choose not to pursue with their vehicles thisdoes not mean the suspect gets away. The ability to use proven resources and technologies to apprehend drivers who flee does not require life-threatening behavior.
Finally, it is important to remember the financial costs (lawsuits, workers’ compensation, insurance claims). For example, a study done in St. Louis found one out of every 100 dollars spent in the police budget went to workers’ compensation claims for deaths and injuries arising from vehicular accidents. That is enough for St. Louis to employ 25 more officers.

John Phillips


Candy Priano

Executive Director, PursuitSAFETY
A National Nonprofit Organization

Monday, July 19, 2010

Herhold: An open letter to the governor

Yesterday, in the Silicon Valley Mercury News, columnist Scott Herhold wrote an open letter to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urging him to look closely at the California Highway Patrol's pursuit policy. Mr. Herhold's advocacy stems from a pursuit last week that lead to the death of an innocent 15-year-old.
"Given the situation, the adrenaline involved, and the need to make a very quick decision, we don't want to have more variables that could add to bad things happening,'' says John Phillips, the president of, whose sister was killed in a law enforcement chase.

Phillips points out what other agencies have already recognized. There are other ways for officers to handle the situation. In most cases, the police can get a license plate number and arrest the bad guy later.
You can read the rest HERE.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Silicon Valley Mercury News

Tuesday afternoon a man decided not to pull over when a California Highway Patrol officer attempted to stop him for a simple traffic violation. The officer pursed, and about one mile later the suspect crashed into another vehicle, killing a 15-year-old. From the Silicon Valley Mercury News:

[The suspect] has 13 arrests in the county, including multiple convictions for drug use and a prior conviction for reckless driving while evading police. He was recently released from county jail, according to court records.

This guy has fled police before, which strengthens the case for strong punishment for those who do flee, even if they do not hurt or kill anyone.

As for this pursuit, it should have never happened. Although details are still hard to come by, according to the story, the pursuit took place during the afternoon in an urban setting near San Jose State University. The pursuit lasted about 1 mile, and the suspect struck the victim's car with such force, it nearly split in two. was quoted in this story:

"What we have here is a dumb, young criminal making another poor decision," said John Phillips, a national police-pursuit critic. "We should not compound their bad decisions with our own."

Phillips, whose sister was killed in a similar situation in 2001, said that the CHP officer should not have pursued the suspect on the basis of an illegal turn., Phillips' organization, advocates pursuing only those who are suspected of committing a violent crime. This is the policy of some departments, including San Jose's.

"The officer should have notified the chain of command that the vehicle did not pull over, obtain a license plate and description if possible, and turn around and turn off his/her lights," Phillips said. "Today's technology allows us to use other methods. Just because the suspect gets out of the sight of the first officer does not mean he will get away."

You can read the rest of the story HERE.