After spate of police chases, policy must be reviewed

By on July 28, 2012

We were going to post a story last week about the Gulfport police chase, the resulting crash with a bus and a building, and Mayor Foster’s criticism of it. But right before we did, there was a similar crash after a police chase, which was started right here in St. Petersburg. Both police chases were of stolen vehicles, the St. Petersburg initiated crash was related to string of burglaries in an upper-class area of the city, but the results were the same, a lot of twisted metal, and several people going to the hospital.

We are conflicted with the debate about police chases, offenders need to be caught, but is the collateral damage too high a price to pay when the suspects are almost always repeat offenders that we would have caught soon anyway? Is it worth sending innocent people to the hospital when the police or a criminal crashes into them because of the chase?

We went back to the horrific case of innocent driver Thomas Atherton, who was killed during a high speed police chase, his car was cut in two by a police cruiser chasing a man fleeing north in the southbound lanes of I-275. This is one of the cases that helped to change the police chase policy in the first place, the thinking was that the collateral damage is not worth chasing a non-violent offender. So the policy was changed to only allow chases when the offender was involved in a violent felony. That policy was then changed when Bill Foster became Mayor in 2009, allowing police chases in more cases.

Earlier this year there was the case of purse-snatcher Kenneth Gordon Davis Jr. who died after he crashed while being chased by police. The crash also sent six other people to the hospital. Davis was known to police, and he was unarmed, but because purse snatching is classified as a violent felony they decided to chase him, and a half-dozen people ended up paying the price for that decision.

As for last week’s police chase crash, it came out that the suspects in the fleeing vehicle were all wanted for questioning in several burglaries, and one had already been positively identified by fingerprints, they were also not armed. This crash sent four other people to the hospital.

So we have 10 innocent people hospitalized (with several critically injured) in just these two St. Petersburg initiated crashes, to catch known suspects that were unarmed. In these cases, the human cost was too high, the suspects should not have been chased.

Back to the recent Gulfport-initiated crash, Mayor Foster immediately had some harsh words for the Gulfport police saying “They got to own this one… That pursuit wouldn’t have been authorized by the St. Petersburg Police Department.“. Yet when asked about the Davis police chase a few months ago he was much more reserved, “I’m waiting for the facts and the investigation to be concluded before I can comment… With any authorized pursuit there are a number of conditions that must be weighed.” He is reserved when it could be his fault, but quick to place blame when he’s in the clear.

The Gulfport Gabber had some criticism of it’s own for Foster, saying “Mr. Foster, an attorney specializing in real estate, probate and corporate law, lists no law enforcement experience on his resume.” Suggesting that Mayor Foster should stop arm-chair quarterbacking, and stick to things that he knows about.

Earlier this year, a Tampa Bay Times editorial called for a review of police chase policy in St. Petersburg. We agree with the Times, we think that in cases where the suspect is unarmed, and known to police, that the chase should be called off immediately, the human cost has proven to be too high.

Cross-posted with permission of Bob Wilson of the Bill Foster Watch.

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