Advertisement

Editorial - Braking police pursuits

February 23, 1998

The West Virginia State Police Department's agreement to pay $775,000 to the parents of an innocent victim killed during a police chase should prompt all police agencies in the Tri-state area to re-examine their pursuit policies. The time when citizens would give police the benefit of the doubt on such matters is long gone.

The lawsuit that led to the settlement was filed by John and Cynthia Smailes, whose 21-year-old daughter Amanda was killed Nov. 24, 1996, when a car being pursued by police collided with her 1989 Ford Escort, sending the compact car hurtling off the road and into a utility pole.

Much is known about the incident because it was videotaped under an arrangement with a TV show called "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol." When the tape was played in court, it included dialogue in which an officer urged the suspect he was pursuing at speeds of up to 100 mph to "die mother...."

Advertisement

The officer later testified that everyone says "things we don't mean," and blamed his comment on the fact that it was "a very intense pursuit."

Now you can argue, as the state police have, that the settlement is not an admission of guilt. But even police would probably agree that some changes in pursuit policy are needed.

Gary Edgell, state police superintendent, told The Associated Press that the policy is under review. We hope that review includes a look at the work done by STOPP - Solutions to Tragedies of Police Pursuits.

Founded in 1994 by a group of citizens who had relatives who had been killed or injured during police pursuits, the group does not oppose all police chases, but only those which don't involve "known violent felons."

We understand that police are naturally reluctant to work with a group that would like to limit their activities. But STOPP has done research nationwide on policies (and on technology like the tire-flattening Stop Sticks) that can make apprehension of fleeing drivers safer. Tapping their information now could help police craft a safer policy sooner, before another tragedy occurs.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|