Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Backbone or Bonehead

The Unrepentant Individual
blog "Time for a Strike” reminded me of an incident that happened while I was working as a night shift patrolman. The Houston Police Department had, at that time, implemented a “new” policy regarding hot pursuit car chases. There had been several high speed chases in the news and the editorial pages were brimming with public fears and talk about how much the City would have to pay out for damages caused by them.

The tone set by the new policy was fairly straight forward; in the event of any damages caused by a police chase, the officer/officers involved in that chase would be held accountable for those damages; regardless of circumstances for the chase. If the suspect’s vehicle ran a red light, collided with another citizen’s vehicle and there were injuries or death, it would be the officer’s responsibility. Somehow that didn’t sit well with me, shifting the responsibility from the criminal who was fleeing the law onto the shoulders of the police officer attempting to enforce those laws. The Department did build a “way out” clause into the policy to make it look like “hot pursuit” chases were permissible and leave it up to the line officer to determine the point at which a chase had become “too dangerous” to continue.

I had answered a burglary alarm call and upon arrival to a large automotive parts warehouse, met the bad guys as they were leaving. They were in a stolen pick up truck that was loaded with those fancy chrome wheel rims stolen from the warehouse. There were two bad guys in the back of the truck throwing those stolen rims at my patrol car as the chase began. I was a one man unit because the City didn’t have enough money to hire enough officers; but that is an entire blog unto itself.

I put the chase out over the radio while increasing speed through a neighborhood with stop signs, still dodging those boxes with the wheel rims. I could see that the suspects were not stopping and the speed was getting ever higher as they approached a major intersection that was controlled by a traffic light system. Even at night the idea of busting through a major intersection at those speeds would be hazardous. A light bulb went off in my mind and the “new” chase policy, complete with judge, jury and lawyer fees flashed past me. The best part was that I had sense enough to advise the dispatcher that the chase had become too hazardous and that I was “dropping back”. I guess the suspects hadn’t read the policy as they were so busy watching me in the rear view mirror when they crashed and all fled into the night on foot, leaving the stolen truck which was now only half full of stolen goods.

It took severl hours to clean up the mess, write the reports and go over the Department’s recording of the chase. I was so glad that I had timed my observation and had documentation on the record absolving me of any damages or I would have been responsible for the destroyed stolen truck and any injuries to the suspects because of my actions.

This is what your local law enforcement officer is up against, and I retired back in 1992. I haven’t had to read any of the newer SOP’s that have been written to save the City and the Department from new litigation issues. I never was one to support such a thing as a Strike by police officers. It seemed anti-american or something at the time; mostly because those calling for such a Strike were blowing smoke about salary issues and labor union efforts. That kind of Strike violated my sense of right and wrong. The idea of an entire Department walking away from a City that has no sense of right or wrong, not having enough backbone to support their officers, even when it might get expensive in litigation, now that kind of Strike I could support.

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