Police pursuit policies give officers discretion

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Police say even though there are certain rules when engaging in a high-speed chase, the decision ultimately lies with the officer involved in the pursuit.
Since Highway Patrol Master Sgt. Steve Hood’s fatal accident during a high-speed chase on May 30, police pursuit polices have become a hot topic. Hood was attempting to catch a man reportedly speeding at more than 100 mph when his car crashed on Highway 370 near Baldwyn. William Francis, 25, of Baldwyn is charged with manslaughter and felony evading arrest in connection with Hood’s death.
Although there have been questions about whether or not Hood’s chase was worth pursuing, Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said you have to trust the judgment of the officer.
“Our pursuit policy is like a use of force policy,” explained Johnson. “You can’t give an officer the tools to enforce the law and tell him never to use them. And you can’t tell him to use them all the time either. With a vehicle pursuit, you can’t have a policy that says never to pursue. It comes down to a judgment call by the officer and the supervisor on the shift.”
Johnson’s policy reads:
“Vehicular pursuits are critical incidents. The manner in which they are undertaken, performed, monitored, terminated and supervised is of serious concern to this department. Deputies will use their best discretion and judgment when conducting emergency vehicle pursuits.”
Things deputies have to consider in a pursuit are road conditions, population of people and vehicles in the pursuit area, weather and other elements in the environment. A deputy’s conclusion on stopping a pursuit will be based on the immediate danger of the public and the deputy in continuing a pursuit, according to Johnson.
Because of more populated and congested areas, Tupelo Police Chief Harold Chaffin said his officers have more variables when chasing a suspect. Pursuits are classified under Class 1 Pursuits, which are violent felony pursuits, and Class 2, which are traffic situations like speeding.
“When danger to the officer and public are more prevalent than pursuing the suspect, then an officer should call it off,” said Chaffin. “But we leave that choice up to the officer or supervisor. Danger is greater to the public in the city because of the heavy population. Now the Class 1 deals with more serious crimes like bank robberies and violent felonies, so standards of calling off a pursuit are going to be higher.”
Messages left with the Mississippi Highway Patrol by the Daily Journal regarding their policies were not returned.
About 300 people a year die in police pursuits, including officers, suspects and innocent victims, according to Pursuit Watch. Pursuit Watch is a nationwide nonprofit association of citizens and police officers with a common goal of safer and smarter police pursuits. Director John Phillips is an advocate of safe pursuit polices.
“Officers should not pursue a suspect unless they are involved in a violent crime,” said Phillips. “It’s not worth the risk to the public’s health or the officer’s. Just because the bad guy gets out of sight doesn’t mean police won’t catch the bad guy.”
Phillips said with technology like dash cameras, police have tools to catch the culprits at a later date.
However, Johnson said you can’t tie an officer’s hands by saying only chase violent offenders.
“You just have to give the officer the ability to make the call,” said Johnson. “Saying never pursue a suspect is not a feasible solution.”

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.