Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tampa Tribune: Deadly chase was judgement call

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Hernando County Sheriff's Office Deputy John Mecklenburg died during a police pursuit. The chase also caused minor injuries to another deputy. Howard Altman of the Tampa Tribune offered an interesting article on the events that took place and HCSO's pursuit policy.

According to Altman, Hernando County's pursuit policy says "pursuits should be aimed at 'violent felony offenders only'." The pursuit that killed Deputy Mecklenburg was due to the suspect driving the wrong way, which certainly doesn't meet the "violent felony offenders only" barrier. Officials noted an investigation is ongoing.

From the article:

Driving the wrong way on a one-way street isn't a reason to give chase, but what happened next seems to be, said Jon Shane, who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The initial reports about the chase seem to "justify continued pursuit, especially after a deputy was injured," Shane said. "The person they are pursuing is the one who dictates the pursuit."

This doesn't make sense. If driving the wrong way doesn't justify a pursuit, then it should never get to the point to where an officer can be injured. Using the events that happen once a pursuit is continued to justify the pursuit enables all pursuits to be justified. In other words, "We can only pursue dangerous people, and even though the suspect only had a broken taillight once he fled he became one of those dangerous people."

John Phillips has a different take. On Dec. 13, 2001, his 20-year-old sister, Sarah, was killed during a pursuit by Orange County deputies. His family started the website PursuitWatch in March 2003 to get law enforcement to chase only people thought to have committed a violent crime.

"Any other offense is not worth the risk to the innocent public and law enforcement," Phillips said. "While someone driving the wrong way is certainly dangerous, we do not need to compound the bad decisions of others with our own. I can't think of a more common situation for law enforcement where the chance of a negative outcome is so possible."

You can read the entire article HERE.

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