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The following editorial was recently published in the St. Augustine Record.

Thursday June 22, 2006

 

I would like to praise the Police departments of both St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach, for they place the safety of their citizens before the adrenaline filled, nerve testing, Russian roulette game that are police pursuits.

By judging a book by its cover (as do many who support smarter and safer police pursuits) I was not aware of the policies of these departments until an article in The Record several months ago sparked my interest. It was soon after when I met Chief Richard Hedges of the St. Augustine Beach Police Department whose policy only allows pursuits of suspects "who are reasonably believed to have committed or attempted to commit a crime of violence and there is reasonable cause to believe that serious physical harm or death might be inflicted upon another person" (Source St. Augustine Beach Police Department General Order Number 15).

Chief Hedges said that he could not remember a pursuit in his department over the last decade, a statement most of our countries chiefs can not claim. Law enforcement in St. Augustine has understood something for years that many departments around America have yet to find; that police pursuits are so dangerous that they are only necessary in a few limited and specific situations. St. Augustine also understands that not pursuing does not hinder their ability to protect us. With all the help that modern technology provides our peace officers, the chances of apprehending suspects has never been higher.

Yet, an average of 300 Americans die yearly from pursuits, and over 4,000 innocent bystanders are injured (NHTSA). Annually, deaths from vehicular pursuits exceed deaths resulting from police discharge of firearms.

A common defense for unrestrictive police pursuits claims that not giving the officers the option to pursue will allow for the bad guys to run free throughout our city. This is not true. Citizens either obey when the police lights turn on or they do not. There is not a segment of the population basing their decision on the department’s policy. Crime fighting is not hindered.

Proof is demonstrated down in Orlando, where the city’s new, more restrictive policy, went into effect two years ago. OPD Chief Mike McCoy's Staff Inspections Unit has reported that in the 12 months since the policy was adopted OPD has made 40,460 traffic stops. The department had 11 pursuits and 107 suspects who refused to stop. To sum up-118 suspects fled and 40,342 obeyed the order to stop. OPD reports that in 2003 there were 20,291 reported felonies which declined slightly in 2004 to 20,065, much to the surprise to many who oppose smart and safer policies. Orlando’s policy is a true representation of the phrase, "to protect and serve."

I feel safer driving through the streets of our town knowing that our officers are putting our safety above the thrills of chasing a purse snatcher at 80 M.P.H. down the automobile crammed streets of St. Augustine.

 

John Phillips

President, PursuitWatch.org


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