- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Lawmakers in California want to put the brakes on police chases after 51 persons died in 2003 as a result of more than 7,100 pursuits statewide. Eighteen of the dead were uninvolved motorists, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The Senate Public Safety Committee last year killed a bill that would have limited police immunity in accidents stemming from high-speed pursuits. A similar plan was reintroduced Wednesday by Republican state Sen. Sam Aanestad, but is meeting resistance from Senate leaders and law-enforcement groups.

Florida and Mississippi enacted laws last year that increased penalties for fleeing drivers. Police officials in California want the same standards.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show Texas had 33 pursuit deaths in 2003, including nine uninvolved motorists; North Carolina had 23 deaths, eight of them uninvolved motorists; and Florida had 21 deaths, with one of an uninvolved motorist.

NHTSA reported three fatalities in Maryland in 2003, two in Virginia and one in the District as a result of police chases.

Maryland State Police participated in 141 extended pursuits last year, department spokesman Sgt. Rob Moroney said.

In June 2003, Montgomery County police updated a six-page policy that restricts officers to pursuing vehicles only when they think a felony has occurred, or the fugitive driver is under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. County police participated in 67 pursuits last year.

“It’s our goal to bring people to justice, and we don’t want to harm anyone in the process,” said Lucille Baur, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman. “It’s going to have to be a very serious crime or the assurance that that person will commit another serious crime if they get away.”

In the District, police officers pursue vehicles only when the suspect fleeing poses a threat of serious harm or is thought to have committed or threatened to commit a violent felony, Inspector Kevin Keegan said.

Inspector Keegan said 75 vehicular pursuits were reported in the District last year — 49 classified within the department’s policy, eight not complying with policy and 18 pending a decision.

Police in Fairfax County participated in 121 pursuits in 2003 — 47 of which resulted in crashes but no fatalities. The county’s policy states that officers can pursue vehicles that fail to stop for a traffic infraction if “the necessity of apprehension outweighs the level of danger created by the pursuit.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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