Chief Hurtt proves to have more sense than the HPD union. He proposed a limit on when car chases would be allowed, ruling out low level offenses such as traffic stops from qualifying for a chase. In response, the HPD Union raised so many complaints (what these complaints were, we do not know) that the mayor refused to allow Hurtt’s proposal to go into effect.
Instead, there is a new proposal that a supervisor will have to be warned that a police chase is about to begin and will then have to monitor and lead the police officers through the chase.
HPD closing in on revised chase policy
Supervisors may be required to direct all pursuits
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
A proposed revision to HPD’s pursuit policy would require supervisors to approve all chases and monitor them as they unfold, officials said.”Hopefully with more people and more eyes engaged with what’s going on, we can avoid serious injury or death,” said police union president Hans Marticiuc, who serves on a 10-member committee that has been exploring ways to make chases safer for the Houston Police Department and the public.
Police pursuit has long been a volatile issue, often erupting in the city when residents or police officers are killed or injured during a chase.
Debate about police chases ignited again this past April, when Rikki Danielle Sanchez, a 24-year-old wife and mother of two, died after a suspected car thief being pursued through a neighborhood by three officers slammed into her truck. Her family filed a suit against the city Thursday afternoon.
Under the expected chase policy revision, supervisors will be asked to direct officers the moment a chase begins.
An officer in pursuit, likely communicating through a dispatcher, would contact a sergeant, who would be required to approve the chase and notify a shift commander. That shift commander, a lieutenant, would then be required to acknowledge he or she was aware of the chase.
Finally, those supervisors would monitor the chase as it unfolded, advising the officer or officers of, for example, what may be ahead, such as a school bus and children or weather-related obstacles.
The HPD’s current policy gives patrol officers discretion and doesn’t require supervisors’ approval.
“Supervisors are going to be aware of what’s going on, and if it’s getting out of hand,” Marticiuc said.
The committee, composed of five brass from HPD and five police union officials, was formed after a proposal by Police Chief Harold Hurtt limiting police chases drew vociferous opposition from the union and a thumbs down from the mayor.
The chief’s proposal would have prohibited officers from chasing fleeing suspects for certain lower level offenses, such as traffic violations.
The committee is expected to have a recommendation ready for Hurtt by the end of the year.
A Chronicle review of about 900 HPD chases indicated the incidents resulted in seven deaths, 143 injuries and more than $1 million in property damage. There are one or two police chases every day in Houston, said Craig Ferrell Jr., HPD’s general counsel.
Besides examining the department’s policy and that of other departments across the nation, the committee is exploring “apprehension and pursuit” techniques and looking at relevant technologies, such as high-tech “stopping” and “tire deflating” products that promise to force suspects off the road quickly, but safely.
“There’s all kind of technology out there,” Marticiuc said.
The future may even allow authorities to shut down a car via satellite, using a built-in system like OnStar, he said.
The committee also sent someone to a driving school to study various types of maneuvers that might work well in a sprawling, urban place like Houston.
Current policy requires officers in pursuit to consider a variety of factors, including the severity of the suspect’s crime, the potential risks to citizens, weather and traffic conditions, the driving behavior of the suspect, and the mechanical conditional of their patrol cars.
“It’s a difficult policy,” Marticiuc said. “You don’t want to take away the officer’s ability to to their jobs. And you have to constantly weigh the need to catch this person versus the public safety aspect of it. It’s difficult for everybody.”
Houston Chronicle reporter Mike Glenn contributed to this report.