Parents want police policy changes

The parents of a Chico girl killed during a police chase last year lobbied a Chico City Council subcommittee this week to change the Police Department’s vehicle pursuit policy.

Candi and Mark Priano each gave the three-member Internal Affairs Committee a 10-minute talk sandwiched around a 16-minute video they’ve put together in the 18 months since their daughter Kristie was killed by a girl who’d taken her mother’s SUV without permission and then tried to outrun a police cruiser.

That chase lasted just under two minutes, reached speeds of 35 miles per hour in a residential neighborhood, but saw the stolen SUV run five stop signs, including the last one where it broadsided the Prianos’ van. Kristie died seven days later from a head injury.

The Prianos argued that the department’s current 12-page policy on police chases is “long, wordy, tedious, contradictory and vague.”

Decisions made during a chase are based on the actions of the suspect instead of a police supervisor, the Prianos allege. Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, has introduced a bill, dubbed Kristie’s Bill, that would create a uniform police pursuit model for the state. Currently each jurisdiction has its own policy and is immune from prosecution as long as such a policy is in place, whether followed in a particular case or not.

The Prianos tried to sue the city of Chico for their daughter’s death. They’ve also appeared on a couple of television talk shows and news magazines, including FOX network’s The John Walsh Show and The Pulse. Their video included scenes from those shows as well as footage from the local Northern California News and photos of their daughter projected over somber background music.

The reporter on The Pulse described the chase as involving a ‘15-year-old on a joy ride” who led police on a ‘high-speed chase.” Both programs showed videotapes of pursued, out-of-control vehicles sliding into trees, bridge abutments or other vehicles in violent confrontations.

After the presentation, Police Chief Bruce Hagerty answered committee questions and defended the department’s pursuit policy. The department’s entire policies-and-procedures manual is undergoing review, he added.

Hagerty, who was not chief when the incident took place, said his review indicated the police action was “as controlled a pursuit as one can get—unlike what was seen on the tape.”

Officers must be given discretion to make decisions in the field, the chief argued, thus policies are purposely vague.

“Policies can’t be hard and fast,” he added. “I support what the officers did. It was measured and calculated.”

Hagerty later said Aanestad’s bill would be fiercely opposed by police and sheriff’s organizations because it would take away needed flexibility and discretion.

The legislation will not be taken up for discussion and vote until next year.

"This bill," Hagerty predicted after the meeting, "will be dead in the water."