Mississippi "Pursuit Bill" awaits Governor's signature                             Back
 

I received today and had an opportunity to study SB 2166 (Pursuit Bill) and I must say that it is nothing more than the legislative equivalent of the oft quoted Law Enforcement lament of “If the bad guys hadn’t run this wouldn’t have happened.” The total focus of the bill is on the punishment of lawbreakers who flee. While it may be true that making the penalties stiffer may help to discourage some who flee, experience has shown that stiffer penalties are only one part of the solution.

Just as important is pursuit policy that eliminates unnecessary risks. It is not necessary to re-invent the wheel each time a pursuit takes place. The research has been done and we can make many decisions before the officer signals the driver to stop.  The bill has no minimum standard for policy other than it must address pursuits that cross over to other jurisdictions. This is woefully inadequate as evidenced by the numerous standards that pursuit policy must address to attain national accreditation. CALEA, the voluntary accreditation organization which represents approximately 80% of police officers, lists a number of specific issues that must be addressed to gain accreditation:

a.  evaluation of circumstances
b.  initiating officers responsibilities
c.  designating secondary unit's responsibilities
d.  specifying roles and restrictions pertinent to marked, unmarked, or other   types of police pursuits
e.  assigning dispatcher's responsibilities
f.  describing supervisor's responsibilities
g.  using forcible roadblocks
h.  specifying when to terminate pursuit
i.  engaging in inter and intrajurisdictional pursuits involving personnel from the agency and/or other jurisdictions; and
j.  detailing a procedure for reporting and an administrative review of the pursuit.
Commentary:  The agency should have clear-cut policy and procedures for pursuit.   The policy should be cross-referenced with the agency's deadly force policy   All personnel should be provided with this written directive.  Agencies may wish to consider frequent discussion and review of these policies/procedures during shift briefings and/or in-service training programs.

While CALEA does not specify how each of these issues should be handled, it does believe that such issues are critical to an acceptable pursuit policy and must be addressed for the agency to receive accreditation. The Mississippi bill requires only a part of one of the 10 critical areas be addressed. Hardly surprising since in the state of Mississippi only the Hattiesburg and Madison Police Departments are CALEA accredited. (In my home state of Florida there are 93 accredited agencies) A quote from the Madison PD website demonstrates the prestige and professionalism such accreditation conveys:

"An example of devotion to excellence is the department's recent achievement of national accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement (CALEA). Accreditation requires 439 criteria must be met, and the process takes approximately two and a half years to complete. There currently is only one other police department in the state of Mississippi that has achieved CALEA accreditation."

The often quoted Mississippi Law Enforcement argument that agencies must have wide discretion in policy making "because each agency has to work within different geographical settings and streets" is nothing more than a red-herring, as the CALEA standards show the argument is laughable and easily dismissed.


The sole mention of training is that agencies shall adopt training procedures and no requirement that a minimum training standard be met. How often must officers take required training? Does the training require pursuit decision making as well as driver training? How many hours of training are necessary?

 

This bill specifies such minimal and vague standards that the accountability portion is virtually toothless. This is hardly surprising since Mississippi does not require agencies to make their policies public claiming that it would reveal their "tactics' to fleeing suspects. It is curious that the vast majority of the over 13,000 police agencies in the United States do not share the same fear. Perhaps the real reason for the secrecy has more to do with accountability than revealing "tactics."

In perhaps one of the most telling quotes about the bill Col. Marvin Curtis, director of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger ,"Typically, if a person is going to run, he is going to flee regardless of the consequences." Exactly why SB 2166 does little to promote public safety. After a year of work by a legislature appointed commission the results are more than a little disappointing-though not surprising. Sixteen of the nineteen members were connected with law enforcement and it is evident that Mississippi Law Enforcement got exactly what it wanted.

SB 2166 lays all of the responsibility at the feet of the lawbreakers and reinforces the mistaken notion that police officers are powerless to do anything except chase the suspects down-no matter the cost. The truth of the matter is that once a suspect flees, the law officers involved have almost as much to do with the outcome of the event as the suspect. This bill will not do much to change an already unacceptable and deadly situation in Mississippi-it may serve as retribution for the lawbreakers but it doesn’t make Mississippi any safer for innocent bystanders and police officers.

 

James Phillips

May 1, 2004

 

 

 

 

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