Officers will continue to pursue serious suspected criminals.
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BOARDMAN -- Township officers will be working under a modified set of rules when chasing suspected criminals who try to flee police in cars at high speed.
Police Chief Jeffrey Patterson has issued to all township police officers new policies on motor-vehicle pursuits and emergency vehicular response.
The chief said the former policies were eventually going to be updated, but several accidents this year prompted officials to expedite the overhaul process.
Fatal accidents: In early February, a township officer, going to a burglary call, hit a car driven by a township resident, 21-year-old Steven Memmer, who died of injuries.
The Memmer family is suing the officer, the police department and the township. The case is pending.
A second February accident also resulted in death when Steven Mango, 30, led township police on a high-speed chase after reportedly robbing several area businesses. Mango turned onto Youngstown-Poland Road against a red light and collided with three other cars. The driver in one of the cars later died.
The new policy was designed to eliminate such situations, said Patterson. Officers must still use judgment in pursuing suspects and alert a superior, but Patterson said the key is knowing when the pursuit has become more dangerous than the individual being chased.
What's spelled out: The new directive spells out when a suspected criminal can be pursued at high speed, such as after committing a serious felony offense; engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or harm; and being a known dangerous criminal or escapee.
Low-speed pursuits may be conducted for virtually any crime when safety risks are minimal.
According to the new policy, officers driving unmarked police cars without lights and sirens are not permitted to take part in high-speed pursuits.
"The policy tries to balance two things. The first is to do no harm," said Patterson. "Our intent here is not to stop chasing bad guys and not to endanger the public in doing so."
Picking up cases: Patterson stresses that lawbreakers should not assume township officers will not give chase to offenders. Even if officers decide not to chase a suspected criminal or call off a chase in progress, detectives will pick up the case and work to find the individual.
Once detectives locate the person, said Patterson, they will likely be charged with the initial crime and running from the law.
"Running from the police is a felony and will be treated as such," he said.
Patterson said in the future, the department will get more into taking the cars of those who choose to run from police. He said an automobile can be taken as contraband if it is used in the commission of a crime such as fleeing officers.