Give the cops some space

Chico has just experienced the second fatal vehicle collision in the last two years apparently resulting from a police pursuit. In this case the person killed was the one being chased, but an innocent driver was seriously injured, as well.

This is a highly emotional subject in Chico because of the tireless efforts of Candy and Mark Priano, whose 15-year-old daughter, Kristie, was killed in 2002 when the family minivan was struck broadside by an unlicensed driver fleeing the police. The Prianos say the chase caused the driver—a 15-year-old who had taken her mother’s vehicle without permission—to speed and run stop signs in a residential neighborhood. Police maintain the pursuit was low-speed and responsible.

The Prianos have turned their sorrow into a crusade to change the state’s police-pursuit policies. Their ally, Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, introduced legislation to create a uniform code of conduct for police chases. The bill, which failed to pass out of committee last May, would narrow police immunity for third-party injuries or deaths resulting from pursuits. Officers would be immune only if their departments had written policies that complied with specific guidelines.

Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty says officers need room for discretion because each case is different. Unfortunately, the initial report on this incident in the local daily newspaper had some wrong information, complicating the chief’s effort to explain the situation.

For one thing, the victim’s injuries required a four-day hospital stay, not overnight observation, as reported. More important, the pursuit was not triggered just by a call from a frat house of a minor assault, as reported. In fact, the suspect’s behavior that night had triggered numerous calls to police and he had a long history of criminal involvement.

Hagerty also says the chase was called off after only a few blocks, and witnesses may have mistakenly assumed the emergency response to the accident was part of the pursuit.

Our sympathies go out to the Prianos and the friends and relatives of the latest victim. But we also realize police work is an inexact science that calls for an officer’s ability to make split-second decisions. That ability should not be compromised by a law rooted in the emotions of a parent’s sorrow.