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Following rules of the road



Published: Fri, July 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Boardman Police Department has taken a good first step to protect innocent bystanders from the hazards of high-speed chases by establishing sensible rules that govern when to chase and when to back off.

The rules are an attempt to balance the need to apprehend a criminal against the hazards of pursuit. Police can pursue someone suspected of committing a serious felony offense; someone who has engaged in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or harm or a known dangerous criminal or escapee.

The new policy has already been put into use. A Boardman officer suspended a chase the other day of a suspect in the theft of tools valued at $400 from a van in a restaurant parking lot.

Police have a good description of the getaway car and the thief as well as the license plate of the car. They hope to be able to make an arrest.

Running hurts: In the meantime, anyone who is tempted to run rather than pull over in Boardman should think twice. While police may not continue a hot pursuit, if the fleeing motorist is apprehended, he will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Police are also looking at the possibility of confiscating vehicles that were used in a criminal enterprise and attempt to allude a police car.

And a driver tempted to flee might just want to consider that even though the cruiser in his rear view mirror is no longer chasing him, another cruiser could be sitting right around the next corner. The car hasn't been invented yet that is faster than a police radio.

Boardman arrived at its new policy out of tragic necessity. Two innocent motorists died in February in the township -- one when a car being pursued collided with two others; one when a patrol car responding at high speed to the report of a burglary struck another car.

New department policies will go a long way toward eliminating the possibility of such needless deaths in the future.

Vigilance needed: But it is necessary to remember that any policy is only as good as its enforcement in the long run.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol has long had a very specific pursuit policy in effect for its officers, who are among the best trained in the state. Yet, Joseph Robertson, 18, of Warren was killed in January when his car was struck by a state patrol cruiser during the pursuit of another motorist over a traffic offense.

Based on reports, the state trooper seemed to have violated the patrol's anti-pursuit policy in a number of ways. If the patrol has taken any disciplinary action in that case, it hasn't let anyone know, including the victim's family.

Failure to enforce an anti-pursuit policy and punish those who violate it weakens the policy and puts the motoring public back in harm's way.




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