Our view: Pursuit policies should not be a secret

April 25, 2013 10:43:46 AM



A Tuesday incident involving a suspect who refused to yield to blue lights during a traffic stop ended with an arrest. But it did not end speculation about how the Columbus Police Department handles pursuits or whether its policy on pursuits should be a matter of public knowledge. 


Sammie Lee Young, 23, was arrested during the incident. According to scanner traffic, it appears two CPD officers pursued the fleeing suspect. In each case, a shift commander told the officers to stop their pursuit. 


According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a person dies as a result of police chases every day. Of these fatalities, some are suspects and some are officers. But 30 percent are pedestrians or civilians in other cars -- people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. 


Over the past decade, many law enforcement agencies have amended their policies. Generally, the rule of thumb is this: Is the danger represented by the possible escape of a suspect greater than the danger to innocent parties that could result from the pursuit? For example, would it be a reasonable risk to pursue someone whose only known offense is a traffic violation through a busy neighborhood? As in many cases, the community's safety relies on good policies from administrators supported by good judgment by officers in the field. 


When asked about the CPD's pursuit police, chief Selvain McQueen declined to share that information. In this respect, McQueen is not alone. The Lowndes County Sheriff's Department, which uses the same Standard Operating Procedure manual as the CPD, would not provide details, either. 


The Dispatch managed to get a copy of the pursuit policy from former CPD chief J.D. Sanders, who implemented the policy the CPD still uses today. Sanders is now the police chief in Hobbs, N.M. 


The policy seems entirely reasonable in that it takes into account the potential danger a chase represents to residents and probable cause that the suspect has or is likely to commit a violent felony. 


A question remains, however. Why is law enforcement reluctant to share this sort of information with the public?  


Certainly, there are policies and procedures not suitable for public consumption because revealing that information might put officers in harm's way. 


But in many other cases, it is hard to imagine how sharing that information works to anyone's detriment. 


Law enforcement officials are universal in their belief an informed, alert public is a tremendous asset. Routinely, citizens are asked to be aware of what's going on in their neighborhoods, to report suspicious activity and, from time to time, to help identify those suspected of crimes. 


In a very real sense, law enforcement partners with residents in the interest of promoting the safety of a community. 


Given that relationship, it serves those agencies best interests when residents are familiar with the agency's policies and procedures in such cases where sharing that information represents no danger to the officers on the streets. 


Informing the public of pursuit policies does not compromise the safety of officers or residents.  


For that reason, it is information that should not be kept from the public.