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Jim Phillips, the founder of PursuitWatch, passed away several months ago. Below are thoughts by just a few of those who he established priceless relationships with in the beginning years of the organization.

John Phillips, son of Jim and acting President of PursuitWatch.

"My father was a smart man who knew more then was probably healthy. In fact, he would proudly announce he knew more then you, me, and everyone else. Some did not like his audacity. But it was this drive and determination that built PursuitWatch. It is a story of love, hard work, and hope. A small business owner, he was living a rather typical life. He had a long and meaningful marriage. He was looking towards retirement with anticipation as so many his age do. He was raising three children that were the motivating force behind endless hours in the office. Yet, like many before him, his life was changed forever one night. When my sister was killed he could have simply accepted the loss and struggled to move on. After all, it is what most of us would do. But, not my father. He become consumed by it. He demanded answers. Some were not easy to get, so he tried harder. Thus, through the months and eventually years, he educated himself on the subject, and became an expert. PursuitWatch grew, as did his reputation. By the time of his passing, I felt he was one of the top experts on police pursuits in the world. Not bad for a small business owner who studied chemistry in college."

"There is a larger picture here. Sometimes it seems like we can't change the world. That it is too big, too powerful, and too stubborn. My father proved this statement false. He showed that no matter who you are; rather it be a hardware store owner, a student, or a 'nobody,' you can change things. My father accomplished this, and as a result of his efforts, lives have been saved. I am proud of him, and I can only hope that I can continue his mission with the same determination."

Candy Priano, KrisitiesLaw.org

Writing a testimonial about Jim Phillips was something I envisioned for quite a while. It would be a happy time, honoring Jim for his tireless work to improve police vehicular pursuit policies across the United States. I imagined that the words would flow easily, but now, my testimonial is posthumous, and consequently, the words do not come so readily.

In 2003, after receiving my first few e-mails from Jim, I quickly realized that he was a strong, smart man who always had just the right words to say at just the right moment. It was not easy for Jim, but he did what no one else could have done. He created PursuitWatch.org. He helped other innocent pursuit victims like me to get through—as much as possible—their own tragedies of pursuit. And, he changed the way many law enforcement agencies conduct police pursuits. All of this happened because of one dark December night when Jim’s daughter, Sarah, became another innocent victim of pursuit.  

Jim never lost sight of his mission.      

Jim and I met as many people meet these days: via e-mail. But my husband Mark and I were lucky enough to meet him in person.

He traveled to Sacramento to testify at a California Senate Public Safety Hearing on behalf of Kristie’s Law, named after my innocent daughter who also was an innocent victim of pursuit. Prior to the Senate Hearing, Jim spent many hours preparing his testimony about the need for a statewide restrictive pursuit policy in California. His presentation was outstanding, and he made Mark and me feel our work was important and necessary. Unfortunately, California legislators did not pass Kristie’s Law, but Jim was there with just the right words: “Sit back, relax and take a few days off. All is not lost!

I am forever grateful that I was given an opportunity to meet Jim Phillips. If it had not been for that hearing, I may never have had that privilege. Jim is quite a presence, a big man with determined patience and endurance in the face of suffering. (I use the present tense because Jim indomitable spirit is still with us.)

To better understand this complex issue of high-speed police chases, Jim read everything he could on the subject. I took full advantage of his hard work. He also willingly answered my endless questions in countless e-mails. Sometimes he answered my question with an e-mail; other times he phoned. Several times he wrote data-filled articles to post on the Kristie’s Law Web site, articles still relevant and still giving me hope. They are the core of my library on officer accountability. These articles left a lasting impression because Jim, who lived on the East Coast in Florida, wrote about California’s pursuit law, one that grants public entities blanket immunity even if the pursuit policy is not followed, with the same depth of knowledge he brought to the Florida law. He never did anything halfway.

When Kristie’s Law was attacked in the California media, Jim was quick to send rebuttals and often, they were published. Jim not only learned and became an expert on police vehicular pursuits nationally, but he was eager to share his knowledge.  

I like to think that I helped Jim as he was helping me. When one of us had not written or called for a while, the other would slip in an e-mail something like, “Haven’t heard from you in a while. Are you okay?” Jim sent the first e-mail to let me know that he understood my pain. As much as humanly possible, we understood—really understood—each other’s pain, the pain of having a daughter ripped away from us in one violent second. It is no wonder Jim and I often said with one voice, "I just wish we had met under different circumstances."

Chief Steve H. Jones, Orange County Sheriff's Office.

"Jim Phillips was a man dedicated to making our streets safer for our citizens and the law enforcement officers that protect us.  Jim was never anti-pursuit and simply wanted to educate our community concerning dangerous police chases.  His knowledge of police pursuits helped law enforcement agencies in Central Florida develop the best policies in our country.  His passion to do the right thing in Orlando led to PursuitWatch which launched the national drive towards safer police chases.  It simply does not make sense to chase a criminal for a traffic and /or misdemeanor offense in the United States when innocent people die as a result.   The argument that the 'bad guys' will simply run from police because of their 'non-pursuit' policies is bogus.  I was one of those critics of restricted police chases, until Jim Phillips educated me.  We have not seen an increase in criminals fleeing from us because of restricted police pursuits.  We have seen an increase in arrests and recovering our victim’s stolen cars in one piece because we thought 'out of the box.'  History will reflect that Jim Phillips’ vision will one day be part of every law enforcement agency’s pursuit policy.  Jim’s only frustration was time, because he knew that time was not on the side of the victims of police pursuits.  Jim Phillips passed away before his vision became reality, but his message will live forever."

Dr. Geoffrey Alpert: Professor and Chair, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of South Carolina.

"[Jim] began a passion that consumed his life. His loss - and [his] family's loss was senseless and he dedicated his life to making sure that no other families would have to go through the pains that [they] felt. He educated himself on the issues of pursuit - his demeanor and intelligence allowed him access to police departments and their officers who "let him in."  He learned the truth, didn't like it, and worked very hard to change it. He felt good about his successes and was motivated by his failures. He made a difference in this world and certainly saved lives of police officers, citizens and even a few "bad guys" who fled the police. There are those who may claim he made it so some of those "bad guys" could escape. There are some in the law enforcement community who were not truthful with him and there were some who thought he was wrong. To his credit, he forgave those people and worked harder to convince them of the truth. He was a kind, honest, and hardworking man who will be missed by all of us. But with more hard work to maintain his website, neither he nor his work will be forgotten."       

Capt. Travis Yates: PoliceDriving.com

Policeone Editorial:
"The LE (Law Enforcement) Profession is a tight knit group. Outsiders are rarely accepted as part of the group and citizens that want to change police practices are often seen as obstructionists and troublemakers.  When I saw the Pursuit Watch web site and subsequently spoke to the owner, Jim Phillips, I didn’t see a troublemaker.  I saw a man that recognized a problem and was doing everything he could to fix that problem.  It took incredible courage for Jim to do what he was doing."

"I learned a lot of lessons from Jim Phillips. The most important is that the answers to problems are not always found within LE. Citizens and groups have a lot to offer and for LE to improve, we must listen. While it is true that some groups do not have good intentions, that is not true for every group. Jim Phillips has made an incredible impact on law enforcement safety."

"Through Jim’s dogmatic approach to pursuit safety, several LE Agencies have improved on their pursuit policies and training. While my friend is now gone, there is no doubt that his impact on the safety of officers and citizens will be seen for years to come."

"I have been criticized in my association with advocates such as Candy (KristiesLaw.org) and Jim. That hardened attitude used to be mine so I understand where that comes from. LE must come to the realization that ideas, concepts and change can come from passionate citizens. LE is bound to improve through the hard work of others. We may not always agree with advocates such as Jim and Candy but we cannot ignore their sacrifice and their ideas. Jim and Candy were just citizens that wanted to make a difference. Can you imagine what our profession could do if we all had that dedication?"

Police Driving Editorial
"I met Jim Phillips in 2003.  We had both just started a website dealing with police pursuits.  Although we started the sites for vastly different reasons and sometimes we disagreed, we quickly became friends.  In fact, Jim became friends with many law enforcement officers.  That is no easy feat.  The police profession is known for not letting outsiders get close.  It was a testament to Jim's love and personality that he achieved this.  Jim Phillips has made the lives of officers and citizens safer through his dogmatic approach to pursuit safety."

"Jim Phillips didn't ask to be an advocate for safer pursuits.   We as officers did and must remain vigilant to ensure that no one else has to endure the pain that my friend does."

"I sent Jim an e-mail telling him of our similar goals and how his site turned out to be nothing like I originally imagined.  Since that late night and numerous e-mails later, I consider Jim Phillips my friend.  My friend does not have a law enforcement background.  He did not ask to be an advocate for safer pursuits. Police Pursuits were the farthest thing from his mind.  On December 13, 2001, Jim's daughter Sarah died from the result of a Police Pursuit.  Sarah had done nothing wrong.  Her death was another reminder to Law Enforcement of how "Hot Pursuits can go horribly wrong."  It's something that officers do not want to think about.  To an officer close to something like this, it is a nightmare.  To a parent, it is devastating beyond anything I could ever imagine."


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