The Martinsburg Police Department is changing its vehicle pursuit policy, which drastically overhauls previous pursuit allowances.
In the past, officers have been allowed to pursue vehicles for any criminal offense.
Now, they can only pursue vehicles if they suspect a violent forcible felony has occurred, or the public is in immediate and life-threatening danger.
“If we are going to initiate a motor vehicle pursuit, which is inherently dangerous, we had to justify that the reason for that pursuit is worth putting innocent people’s lives as risk, and that is the bottom line,” said Martinsburg’s police chief Maury Richards.
The change was initiated under Richards, who said he does not want to see his department negatively portrayed for accidentally hurting an innocent bystander during a vehicle pursuit.
“You look all over the country, and unfortunately you see a lot of headlines…you usually see something like this: ‘police to revaluate policy after a 3 year old innocent child is killed’,” said Richards.
“It’s inevitable that someone is going to get killed or seriously injured in a vehicle pursuit if you do enough of them.”
Officers will now be required to perform a ‘balance test’ before engaging and continuing in a pursuit, a test which means they should be able to justify putting innocent lives at risk for the sake of solely stopping the suspect and vehicle.
“We’re going to use other alternatives to find people, of course, [but] the intention behind it is to save an innocent life,” said Sergeant Michael Usack with the Martinsburg Police Dept. “If it saves one innocent life, it makes it worthwhile.”
The policy change is the result of an internal 8-week problem solving imitative that started soon after Chief Richards took office.