CLAYTON, MO (KMOX)-St. Louis County Police officers now have permission to get involved in more car chases.
The county’s Board of Police Commissioners on Wednesday changed the rules officers had operated under since 2007, which limited them to only pursuing suspects who had used, or threatened to use, deadly force. The board says officers may now chase suspected drunk drivers and suspected property thieves.
Chief Tim Fitch tells KMOX that the department had been getting ‘hammered’ by the public for not chasing more suspects, so it enlisted the Criminal Justice Department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis to conduct a survey of county residents.
Fitch says 80 percent of respondents said they wanted police to pursue suspected drunk drivers and a clear majority wanted officers to chase suspected property thieves. Fitch says his officers are involved in about a dozen pursuits a year, he expects that number to go up, “Do we expect there to be additional pursuits because of the new policy? Yes, we do expect that. Are there possibilities that people could be injured? Yes, that certainly could happen. But we’re also to the point where, who do you let go and who don’t you let go?”
Fitch says the public also wants officers to chase stolen car suspects, but the board rejected that idea, “If the only crime is it’s a stolen vehicle, we recognize in most stolen vehicles usually the person who reports it knows the suspect, and the vehicle is covered by insurance. Is that the right reason to get into a high-speed pursuit?
“We know there are many citizens killed per year in high-speed police chases. We also know that about 50 percent of all officers killed in the line of duty in any given year are killed in police cars and many of them are engaged in high-speed driving. We had to draw the line and said we are still not going to pursue stolen vehicles.”
Fitch says because of the danger involved, there is no right answer on when to, or when not to, chase a suspected criminal, “We have a job to do and it’s a tough job to do and we have to make some educated decisions on which pursuits we’re going to engage in and which ones we won’t. We think we’ve come up with the best policy with what will work in St. Louis County.”