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, PursuitWatch.org 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
Executive Director, PursuitSAFETY
A National Nonprofit Organization