Local cops train to make decisions on car chases
Three hundred people die in police chases nationwide each year.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- Although state law requires police officers to train annually with their service revolvers, they are not required to train with another potentially deadly piece of equipment: their cruisers.
Canfield Sgt. Robert D. Magnuson says that's a mistake. That's why he played host Thursday for a course designed to help police supervisors decide when to permit high-speed responses and when to call them off.
Nineteen officers from a dozen area departments attended. Instructors from Master Drive in Akron provided training.
Magnuson said about 5,000 police chases each year result in 300 deaths across the United States. In 1999, 47 officers died, according to Uniform Crime Reports.
"No police officer wants to see any civilian die, or a suspect or an officer," Magnuson said. "Obviously, we've got a job to do, we've got to catch the bad guys, but you have to weigh each situation."
Timely topic: With more emergencies, more vehicles on the roadway and more "bad guys," police pursuit issues are coming to the forefront, said Ken Stout, president of Master Drive. The company has trained officers in more than 80 Ohio departments since 1995.
"People are killed. Lives are threatened," Stout said. "... We as a society are not tolerant of innocent death because someone was chasing someone for who-knows-what."
Besides taking lives, high-speed chases that end catastrophically can also cost a community financially, officers said. Often, those injured as a result of speeding cruisers will sue departments and cities.
Departments are required by state law to have a policy on high-speed chases, but such policies vary from those that limit speeding to suspected violent felony matters, to no restrictions, Master Drive officials said. They say training is important to fill gaps in policies.
Officers said awareness and policy-making have resulted in fewer chases.
Boardman Police Chief Jeffrey Patterson said his department is involved in three or four chases per year compared with years ago when officers were instructed to "chase until the wheels fall off."
Local civilian deaths: He sent a supervisor to Thursday's training on the heels of a change in his department's pursuit policy prompted by two civilian deaths this year involving Boardman cruisers being driven at high speeds.
Several area residents have died recently as the result of crashes involving police responses.
U'In February, the driver of a car on Youngstown-Poland Road died after it collided with a vehicle being chased by Boardman police who had received reports that the driver had robbed several area businesses.
U'Also in February, a Boardman Township officer en route to a home-burglary call hit a car driven by 21-year-old Steven Memmer of Boardman on Southern Boulevard. Memmer died, and his family has sued the officer, the police department and the township.
U'In January, Joseph Robertson, 18, of Warren died when an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper chased a driver suspected of being drunk on Elm Road Northeast in Howland.
U'William H. McCurdy Jr., 37, of Hubbard, died June 15, 2000, after a crash on Loganway in Liberty. He was a passenger in a car chased by Coitsville Township police, who wanted to question McCurdy after they said he jumped over the fence of an auto dealership.