St. Pete Police change policy to no longer pursue vehicles unless chasing violent felons
St. Petersburg Police will no longer be able to pursue vehicles unless the driver or occupants have been involved in a violent felony.
The new chase policy was announced Thursday by Mayor Rick Kriseman and Interim Chief of Police David Dekay. It replaces the previous guidelines that allowed pursuit of a fleeing vehicle if an officer felt it was necessary.
We interviewed Benjamin Kirby, the communications director in the office of St. Petersburg Mayor Kriseman.
"Effective today, Thursday the 9th, interim Chief of Police, David DeKay, changed the St. Petersburg Police Department's pursuit policy. What he's done with the new policy is authorized police officers to pursue vehicles only when those vehicles drivers or their occupants have been involved in a violent felony. What that changes it from is essentially the officer's discretion to engage in a pursuit."
What's the reason for the change? Can you give our listeners some background about when the old policy was in place, what the issues were with that?
"Sure. This policy effectively reverts to an older policy. The previous administration changed it to make it the officer's discretion and Mayor Kriseman had campaigned on this citing public safety concerns as well as concerns for the safety of the officers. As Chief DeKay said in his statement today this policy, this pursuit policy is still going to allow officers to be effective in apprehending felons fleeing the scene, violent felons fleeing the scene and we're going to minimize risk to the public."
There's been some comments in the public since the announcement has been made that 'all you have to do if you're being chased by the police and you see the red lights, all you have to do is just run and then they can't chase you.' What's your response?
"I don't think that's quite right. I think a clearly defined pursuit policy achieves a few things. It gives officers a very clear understanding of when and how to conduct a pursuit so you're minimizing not just physical risk to these officers but all kinds of risks to these officers. It does help reduce injury and death and it maintains a basic mission of police and law enforcement to protect life and property."
Are there examples of when the old policy was in place where police chased a suspect and then there was an injury?
"There have been instances where there have been police pursuits, not necessarily that you could describe as wrong or right. It certainly fell within the guidelines of whatever policy was in place but we have seen evidence of high speed pursuits where officers were injured or innocent bystanders were injured and certainly where property has been damaged. Private property and city property and police property. Some national statistics cited by the FBI include things like innocent third parties who do happen to be in the way constitute something in the range of 42 percent of persons killed or injured in police pursuits. Another FBI statistic was one out of every one hundred pursuits results in a high speed pursuit that results in a fatality. Those are some statistics to consider. Just a couple to consider when thinking about this. This is a public safety issue, Sean."
St. Petersburg Police deferred comment to the Mayors office.
Here is the new policy: