- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas Department of Public Safety’s policy regarding vehicle pursuits - which permits troopers to shoot at fleeing vehicles - is out of step with evolving national standards, according to experts.

Texas motorcycle pursuits are especially high-risk, according to data reviewed by the Austin American-Statesman (https://atxne.ws/1G7TkV3 ).

According to DPS figures, seven motorcyclists died during high-speed chases between 2006 and 2010, a fatality rate three times greater than that of other motorists.

The newspaper’s review also found that two-thirds of the motorcycle pursuits between 2006 and 2010 surpassed 100 mph - a rate four times higher than for other vehicles.

Texas troopers pull over between 2 million and 3 million motorists a year, with officers chasing only about 900 drivers a year. Motorcycles make up a small subset of the pursuits, with troopers chasing between 75 and 100 motorcyclists a year, according to newspaper’s analysis of agency statistics between 2006 and 2010.

While some agencies around the country limit chases of individuals on motorcycles to the most dangerous criminals, Texas effectively draws no distinction between minor and major offenders who flee.

“Once a driver makes a conscious decision to evade law enforcement they are automatically committing a felony offense and endangering the public,” said Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger.

The DPS also is much less likely to call off a chase once it has begun. A large 2008 International Association of Chiefs of Police study found departments on average called off about 9 percent of their pursuits. For Texas troopers, the number is only 3 percent.

In 2012, DPS trooper Abraham Martinez ended a pursuit of a man on a motorcycle that reached speeds of 130 mph after shooting and injuring the man from his vehicle. After the chase, the motorcyclist, Steven Gaydos , was karate kicked off his bike.

DPS says while it limits its troopers’ use of their guns to situations where the officer believes a suspect will cause harm to the officer or another, the agency maintains occasional use of firearms from vehicles remains necessary. Martinez told a supervisor he needed to end the pursuit to avoid any serious injuries and possibly even deaths from happening, according to transcript of a DPS interview.

Last year, Martinez was given three days off without pay.

Two months before the chase of Gaydos, the agency’s pursuit and force policies were scrutinized when a trooper in South Texas fired from a helicopter at a fleeing truck believed to be smuggling immigrants. Two Guatemalans hiding under a tarp in the truck’s bed were killed.

The agency has since modified its rules for when troopers can use their guns during certain pursuits, adding restrictions about shooting from helicopters and boats, or at any vehicle that might have occupants.

“They’re just creating an incredibly high risk for everyone,” said University of South Carolina criminal justice professor Geoffrey Alpert, a leading researcher on police pursuits. “It’s part of the DPS culture that needs to come into the 21st century.”


Information from: Austin American-Statesman, https://www.statesman.com

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