High-speed chases questioned

January 3, 2008 3:47:17 PM PST
A crash involving a Wake County deputy is raising new questions about police pursuits. How fast is too fast for officers responding to emergency calls?

Eyewitness News talked to a local law enforcement expert who said the crash could have been avoided.

At this time, it has not been determined if the deputy was at fault in the crash that happened at Rock Quarry Road and Ruby Drive.

"The officers themselves need to understand the risk involved in these pursuits," said Pete Rubino, N.C. Safety Solutions, Inc.

Pursuits like the ones Rubino is referencing sometime prove deadly -- like a fiery crash in Granville County last November.

According to Rubino, North Carolina has a problem. "North Carolina is one of the leading Southeast states for police chases where people are injured or killed and it needs to stop."

Rubino speaks from experience as a former state capital police officer and a New York state trooper. The nationally certified safe driving instructor is now a local safety consultant.

He showed Eyewitness News where a Wake County Sheriff's Deputy recently crashed into a restaurant sign at a Rolesville intersection.

"People could've been in the parking lot," Rubino said. "It could've been a lot worse."

No one was injured.

But similar to that crash on Rock Quarry Road, the deputy wasn't chasing a criminal. He was responding to a call.

The Highway Patrol says speed was a factor in the crash. The officer crossed the center line, ending up in a head-on collision.

"In realistic terms, a pursuit should be analyzed again every 500 feet, but that's not what we're seeing here," Rubino said. "What we're seeing here is these 2- to 3-mile pursuits and the officers are forgetting some of that training."

Training that Rubino says officers need to routinely repeat before their vehicle becomes a potentially dangerous weapon.

"It really has nothing to do with chasing the offender or the criminal," Rubino said. "It's about the safety of the public first.

Again, it is not known if the deputy involved in the crash is at fault, but Rubino says the crash needs to be examined closely.

Wake County Sheriff's Office Emergency Response and Pursuit Policy

FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED PRIOR TO INITIATING EXTRAORDINARY SHERIFF'S OFFICE VEHICLE OPERATION

1. The nature and gravity of the offense or situation giving due regard to:

a. Criminal Offenders. Criminal offenders shall be divided into three categories based upon their increasing threat to the public. The nature of this threat must be taken into consideration at all times during the initiation and continuation of extraordinary Sheriff's Office vehicle operation.

i. Non-Hazardous Violators. Technical violators, such as motorists with license, registration, or equipment violations pose the least hazard and represent the lowest priority. These violators pose no immediate threat to the safety of the public.

ii. Instantaneous Moving Violators. Drivers who engage in unlawful conduct for a brief moment then resume lawful operation. Such individuals include stop sign violators and others who do not present a continuing hazard to the public. They are of an intermediate priority.

iii. Continuing Moving Violators. Speeders, suspected impaired drivers, and others who present a substantial continuing hazard to the public are of a higher priority. Likewise, persons suspected of serious felonies such as homicide, armed robbery, kidnapping, forcible rape or other forcible sexual assault, assault on a government official, and similar crimes of violence pose an immediate hazard to the public. These persons should be apprehended as quickly as possible, consistent with the exercise of due care for the public's safety.

b. An Officer's Call for Assistance

i. Life-Threatening. An officer's call for assistance, due to the officer being exposed to a life-threatening situation is high priority that justifies an emergency response.

ii. Non-Life-Threatening. An officer's call for assistance that involves no imminent danger is low priority and does not justify an emergency response.

2. External Physical Conditions

a. Width or physical condition of the highway

b. Weather conditions

c. Nature of the neighborhood (rural, semi-urban, urban, business, or residential)

d. Volume or density of pedestrian and vehicular traffic

e. Number or proximity of intersections, side streets, and driveway connections

f. Performance capabilities of the Sheriff's Office vehicle

g. Passengers in the suspect/violator vehicle

h. Familiarity with area and surrounding highways


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