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Banning pursuits akin to declaring open season on law-abiding citizens

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POSTED November 17, 2009 3:12 a.m.

It’s tempting to want to handcuff police in how they protect us especially if our property as innocent third parties is somehow damaged or compromised as the result of a pursuit or a police action.

Such was the case when the Bank of America robbery suspects in September commandeered a duplex as well as those who had cars damaged in the pursuit this past Saturday.

Police – more than anyone else – know just how risky pursuits can end up getting. More law enforcement officers in this country die in accidents than from any other cause. They also understand the danger to the general public. Manteca especially so given the fatality that occurred in the 1980s when a fleeing suspect T-boned a car at the Center Street and Union Road intersection. That prompted Manteca to become one of the first cities that had all of its traffic signals wired so drivers of emergency vehicles – fire, police, and ambulance – can change them remotely to clear the way in a pursuit or an emergency.

There are strict guidelines in place in Manteca where the watch commander makes the call on pursuits when it comes to if to keep going and when to drop off.

Public safety is key. If cops know a fleeing suspect already and have a clear idea of where to find them when he’s not peeling rubber to escape them, they’ll just bide their time unless it is an extremely serious offense.

This brings us to the crux of the pursuit issue.

If Manteca dropped pursuits altogether in the case of certain crimes as some cities have done, criminals would essentially operate with impunity.

Police Chief Dave Bricker can share statistics from cities that have banned pursuits if it involves a suspect in a stolen car. As a result car thefts in those jurisdictions have skyrocketed. And why not? If you know all you have to do is step on the gas and the cops will leave you alone then it is open season on cars.

Sometimes police don’t know why someone is fleeing. They could very easily be wanted somewhere for – or may have just committed – a serious felony such as murder, rape, or armed robbery. Just how critical would we be of police if they opted not to pursue someone and the guy ended up having a kidnap victim in their vehicle?  Or, more likely, what if it was a driver under the influence who, long after the pursuit was called off, crashes into another vehicle killing people?

When to undertake a high speed pursuit is not an exact science. It is an art that takes the department to call on experience, the circumstances, and the seriousness of the crime – providing it is known.

Some like to call police cowboys. They don’t mean it as a compliment inferring that they are somehow wild and adrenaline pumped. But consider this: Wouldn’t you want a cowboy in the truest sense of the Gene Autry and Roy Rogers genre?

Yes, I know all about rogue cops. But by and large – I’d venture to say 99 percent of them are the real deal. Do they get an adrenaline rush in what they do? Yes, but then again would you want someone who isn’t passionate about the oath they took to serve and protect?

Peace officers today have to be legal experts, humanitarians, and mediators on top of everything else. They have to keep their cool and make snap judgments every time they deal with an incident whether it is to ticket someone for a traffic transgression they see or whether to haul someone off to jail in a domestic dispute.

Police do have a choice when it comes to pursuits – and that is a good thing. We hire men and women who have sound judgment to protect our community and who are willing to take risks to keep the peace.

If we handcuff police to such an extreme that we have municipal policies in place that ban pursuits, then you might as well advertise Manteca as a safe haven for criminals and declare it open season on law-abiding citizens.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail dwyatt@mantecabulleitn.com



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